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German Stars Reach Global Audiences With Bigger-Budget Shows

German Films, a body that promotes Teutonic talent and content, staged a panel discussion on “breaking boundaries” during the Berlin Film Festival, as part of the fest’s Drama Series Days section. Taking part were three of the participants of German Films’ 2019 Face to Face program – Fahri Yardim, Luise Heyer, and Maria Dragus. For all three breakthrough roles in independent films led to parts in major TV series, which have given them an international platform for their talent.

Dragus’ big break came early, when she appeared as a child actor in Michael Haneke’s film “The White Ribbon.” This took her to Cannes, where the film won the Palme d’Or, and the Oscars, where it was nominated for best foreign-language film. Dragus also won best supporting actress at the German Film Awards.

That success launched her acting career, which has included a recent role in a Hollywood movie, “Mary Queen of Scots,” starring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, and the prestige TV biopic “Brecht,” starring Tom Schilling. The red-carpet premiere of the miniseries at the Berlin Film Festival this week was attended by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the president of Germany.

The role that launched Heyer’s career was Edward Berger’s “Jack,” which was selected in the competition section of the Berlin Film Festival. It was a small arthouse film, but the attention it received gave Heyer the chance to move into mainstream TV series in Germany, but with Netflix’s “Dark” she now reaches a global audience. Its distribution in 200 countries has given it an impact that few German shows can match, which she appreciated when she shot a film in Brazil recently and found out that people there had seen the show. But although “Dark” has a big budget, Heyer said it still had much in common with independent filmmaking. “They all do it out of love,” she said.

Yardim’s breakthrough role was in comedy “Almanya – Welcome to Germany,” which screened out of competition at the Berlin Film Festival. His elevation to the major league came later with the cop show “Tatort” (Crime Scene), which attracted audiences of up to 13 million in its prime, and Yardim got to star alongside Germany’s most popular actor Til Schweiger.

The profile that “Tatort” gave him led to him receiving multiple offers, but he admits he lacked discrimination, and some were of dubious quality. “I was hyped at that time, and I said yes too often, including to some s**t romantic comedies, but I had to learn from that,” he said. “I wanted everything and everybody wanted me, especially the commercial producers.” This led to a “crash” in his career, he said. “This was a hard time because you realize your hype is over.”

Since then he has rebuilt his career, leading up to his recent performance in Netflix action cop show “Dogs of Berlin.” In this Yardim plays a gay cop, a role that has not been seen often in mainstream culture. “It is a mini revolution,” he said. “It feels good to be part of the normalization” of a character like this.

Speaking about the status of TV and cinema as art forms, Yardim said, “There is still a gap” between the two. But, he added, the quality of TV shows was on the rise, and the bigger budget shows were now seen as “a little bit more worthy.”

Now Yardim and Dragus are looking to crossover into writing, directing and producing.

Yardim has set up a production company, Bon Voyage Films. “Our aim is to make movies that are both entertaining and relevant,” he said. It has one film in production, directed by Johannes Naber, although Yardim declined to disclose further details. As well as acting and producing, Yardim also intends to write and direct some projects himself.

Dragus has written a script for a female driven movie about the conflicted identity of a young female migrant. When she learns that one of her relatives in her home country is ill, she is faced with a dilemma. “She is between two things, because she is living in one of the biggest cities in Europe, and very much loves her life, and is very disconnected from where she is from, and is then faced with her roots and her heritage.” The character has to ask, “What does ‘home’ mean and where will you find it? Is it something that is chosen or given?”

Dragus, who grew up in Romania before moving to Germany, sees it as a universal rather than a personal story. “I think it is a very millennial kind of problem. I have many friends who left home at an early stage of their lives, and are now faced with political situations in their newly chosen home and also in where they are from. We have to think globally now; we are all responsible for one another. That is something that is very accessible and I want to tell accessible stories,” she said.

Dragus said it could be set in many different countries. “It is very easily placeable in different locations, so that is why I am not bound by any restriction [in terms of location].”

The session was moderated by Variety’s Stewart Clarke.

Variety Award

Fahri Yardim, Maria Dragus, Mariette Rissenbeek, Luise Heyer (Photo: Courtesy of German Films/Kurt Krieger)

German Films

Fahri Yardim (Photo: Courtesy of German Films/Kurt Krieger)

German Films

Maria Dragus (Photo: Courtesy of German Films/Kurt Krieger)

German Films

Luise Heyer (Photo: Courtesy of German Films/Kurt Krieger)

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