At a time when the arthouse market is struggling with declining viewers, Germany’s Pandora Film continues to achieve success in both production and distribution with an eclectic lineup of domestic and international films.
The Cologne-based company’s shareholders, producers Claudia Steffen, Christoph Friedel, Reinhard Brundig and Raimond Goebel, attribute their strong performance in part to their close working relationships with filmmakers. Pandora’s recent co-productions include Claire Denis’ upcoming science fiction drama “High Life,” starring Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche, Marcelo Martinessi’s award-winning Paraguayan drama “The Heiresses” and Ulrich Köhler’s German feature “In My Room,” which premieres in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard.
Steffen and Friedel spoke with Variety about the company’s latest productions, the current industry climate and the company’s inner workings.
Where is Pandora Film today, both as a producer-distributor in Germany as well as a key co-production partner for international filmmakers?
Steffen: With our distribution colleagues we have been reacting to the increasingly difficult German arthouse market. Results of this collaboration are successful German movies like “Paula” by Christian Schwochow last year, with 350,000 admissions, and established international longtime companions like Aki Kaurismäki with his recent film “The Other Side of Hope.”
We also want to continue to discover and support emerging talent around the world, like this year’s Berlinale winner “The Heiresses” or Michael Koch’s upcoming second feature film “A Piece of Sky,” a Swiss-German co-production.
What’s behind your successful, long-lasting relationships with filmmakers?
Steffen: In the best case we try to have an overall strategy for their career. With Christian Schwochow we were already working on his on his new movie, “Je suis Karl,” during the release of “Paula.” We have distributed three films by Andreas Dresen and now we are also producing his new feature, “Gundermann,” which will be released this August.
This year you had a big success with Marcelo Martinessi’s debut feature “The Heiresses.” Will you continue to work together?
Friedel: Yes, we will continue. Marcelo is a wonderful director to work with and his country Paraguay offers much more to tell than one single film.
How would you describe “In My Room,” which sounds like a fascinating drama with a sci-fi twist?
Friedel: Köhler’s film speaks about the freedom to invent another world. The twist in the film does not come from an external event like some natural disaster, it simply comes out of the needs of the main character. The film shows the power cinema has when it goes beyond our normal expectation of a story.
Do films like “High Life” have the potential to attract younger viewers?
Steffen: It is a major challenge to attract younger audiences to arthouse theaters. “High Life” will be the next attempt to do so, a film from a director who despite her age has always explored new storytelling. We believe in cinema. We try to do films that can be discovered as real events, something new, something the audience has not yet seen. And yes, we need to work to convince younger people to feel so too.
What are some of the exciting countries and international filmmakers you have recently worked with?
Friedel: We follow things we know, like Latin American cinema, and people like Bent Hamer from Norway, with whom we are doing “The Middle Man,” his new English-language film – a vision of the USA in the near future.
We also have our alliance with France, which has always been fruitful for us, not only because of ARTE and the bilateral treaties we have between our two countries. Our next collaboration here is “10,000 Nights” by young French director Artur Harari, the story of Onoda Hiroo, a Japanese soldier who stayed in the jungle for 30 years after World War II, waiting for his superiors to take him back.
How many films does Pandora produce and distribute a year?
Steffen: Last year we did three. For a small company this is not easy, as we cannot really work on development during such a year. We are facing the problem in Germany that big entities such as Network Movie and Studio Hamburg – which are owned by public TV channels – have also entered cinema production. Still our aim is to produce two productions as delegate producers and three to four minority co-productions per year.
Pandora Distribution releases about five to six films per year. Roughly three of them are produced by Pandora Film, the others are mainly bought on script basis from other German producers or acquired in the markets. The distribution company has its own management. They read our projects at an early stage, but we are not forced to work together.