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German Films Faces Market Challenges Under New Leadership

As Mariette Rissenbeek prepares to step down as managing director of German Films to co-head the Berlin Film Festival with outgoing Locarno fest chief Carlo Chatrian in 2020, Germany’s film industry is hoping her successor at the film promotion organization will share the same skill, dedication and passion for which the outgoing head is widely praised.

German Films focuses on promoting the sales and distribution of German productions around the world, from organizing Teuton film festivals in New York, Moscow, Paris, Madrid, Buenos Aires and Beijing, to planning local and international screening events, such as the German Previews, which screens the country’s latest theatrical features for international distributors and buyers.

It also provides advertising funds for films, P&A financing to foreign distributors and marketing support for German films screening in international festivals.

The change in leadership at the organization nevertheless comes at a challenging time for German films, particularly in North America.

International audiences for German films in the U.S., Canada and in some European countries are decreasing, Rissenbeek tells Variety. Demand in other regions, such as China, is rising, however.

An overall greater effort is needed to reach more global audiences and ensure greater international interest, not only in German films but also in TV series, particularly among younger viewers, Rissenbeek adds.

In its aim to boost the prospects for German films in North America, the organization is looking at intensifying marketing efforts toward cinemas and universities in the U.S.

As for global efforts, Rissenbeek says international film festivals are “the most important platforms to enhance the visibility of independent German films.” The organization uses all the big festivals to not only support German films that are being screened but also to promote domestic productions.

German Films’ next managing director should be someone “experienced in international film marketing and have experience in handling a budget which is financed by public institutions,” says Rissenbeek. “And he or she should love film!” The next managing director will certainly have a high bar to meet.

Producers Jamila Wenske and Sol Bondy of Berlin-based One Two Films, whose latest pic, “The Most Beautiful Couple,” screened in Toronto’s Contemporary World Cinema sidebar, say Rissenbeek has left an indelible mark on the industry.

“Mariette and her team have shaped the profile of German Films in the past decade and will leave a well-ordered field,” says Wenske. “As much as the industry should give Mariette the appropriate time to relaunch the Berlin Film Festival together with Carlo Chatrian, the new German Films managing director should get that time as well. I hope that her successor will be as well connected as Mariette and continue the support for German filmmakers with the same passion and energy.”

Wenske and Bondy say the organization is “an amazing ambassador” in helping German filmmakers launch their works abroad.

Constantin Film CEO Martin Moszkowicz says finding a successor for Rissenbeek won’t be easy. “She is well respected in the German film industry and abroad. I am sure it is a challenge to find somebody like her.”

Andreas Rothbauer, managing director of Berlin-based sales company Picture Tree Intl., says German Films “needs a managing director that has a profound sales and distribution background as well as an international profile and network.”

He adds: “We need a hands-on, industry-driven person who is aware of the importance of the economic relevance of German films beyond cultural aspects like festival work. Mariette grew into the position, combined all those aspects and was extremely dedicated. Moreover, she was a good diplomat and managed to deal with the diverse interests of the various stake-holders. It is a huge loss and we very much hope that the future managing director can live up to her profile with fresh vision and energy.”

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