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Face to Face With German Films Initiative Aims to Disrupt Perceptions

“It is a gamble,” admits Mariette Rissenbeek, managing director of German Films. But as the driving force behind the Face to Face With German Films initiative, which will showcase its third phase — this year spotlighting directors — at the 68th Berlinale, she is confident it’s a gamble worth taking. Initially launching a lineup of six emerging German actresses at the 2016 London Film Festival, with phase two, showcasing six actors, unfurling at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, the program is designed to raise the profile, and to alter the international perception, of German cinema, through the promotion of its brightest, freshest faces.

This year’s program features helmers Emily Atef (her “Three Days in Quiberon” screens in Berlin’s competition), Valeska Grisebach (whose “Western” bowed last year in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard to acclaim), Lars Kraume (his pic “The People vs. Fritz Bauer” won six German Film Awards in 2016 while his new feature “The Silent Revolution” screens as a Berlinale Special Gala), Anca Miruna Lazarescu (her next feature is “Happiness Sucks,” and she’s working on an HBO Europe series), Burhan Qurbani (working on “Berlin Alexanderplatz”) and David Wnendt (“Wetlands,” “Look Who’s Back”).

Previous picks have been fortuitous. Actress Paula Beer, an award-winner for “Frantz” in 2016, now stars in Christian Petzold’s 2018 Berlinale title “Transit.” Another 2016 Face, Saskia Rosendahl (“Lore”) will appear in Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s next film, co-starring with 2017 alum Tom Schilling (“A Coffee in Berlin”). Liv Lisa Fries is wooing audiences in Berlin jury president Tom Tykwer’s lavish series “Babylon Berlin” — opposite her 2017 counterpart, Volker Bruch. If part of the program’s mission is to create a new vanguard, this kind of cross-pollination is galvanizing indeed.

Louis Hofmann, young star of Netflix hit “Dark,” thanks Face to Face With German Films for “the chance to increase my visibility on an international level and to meet incredible people” (and also to go to Cannes where he had, he says, “one of the greatest nights of my life”). And the more established Faces also find it rewarding: Alexander Fehling (“Three Peaks”), who will soon be seen in Terrence Malick’s “Radegund,” was grateful for “the opportunity to ship my work to other harbors, while we had the honor of representing German cinema as it is right now.”

Of course, how German cinema is right now is a matter of some debate. Actress Julia Jentsch was a Face the year her stirring abortion drama “24 Weeks” was released, and found that international audiences enjoyed discovering that German filmmakers could be “personal, innovative and good at telling stories that haven’t been told before.” But broader audiences still often associate the nation’s filmmaking with “dull history that belongs in a museum.”

Two years ago, that began to shift with “Toni Erdmann.” There’s no overstating the booster-rocket importance of Maren Ade’s 2016 Cannes sensation not just to German cinema’s international image, but to its sense of itself. Securing the film’s star, Sandra Hüller, for the first edition of Face to Face With German Films “was a big push for the whole campaign,” says Rissenbeek. Indeed, the whole initiative can be viewed as an attempt to capitalize on the mythbusting momentum of “Toni Erdmann,” which proved that German filmmaking could be surprising, funny, edgy and above all, modern.

But shifts don’t happen overnight. The initiative is only 18 months in and the hope that individual careers will get a boost and will in turn gradually remake the popular image of German cinema comes with no guarantee. As the campaign moves into phase three, it is a pivotal moment for a scheme that aims to give German cinema something lasting, visible and expressive: a new face.

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