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Germany Strengthens Foreign Ties

With more international co-productions in cinemas than ever before and a new crop of high-profile titles this year, Germany’s renown as fertile ground for foreign filmmakers continues to soar.

The number of German-backed cross-border titles in local theaters rose 30% last year to 98 — the most ever — and the trend looks set to continue. This year a slew of German co-productions are vying for Cannes’ Palme d’Or, among them Terrence Malick’s historical drama “A Hidden Life”; Jessica Hausner’s sci-fi thriller “Little Joe”; Marco Bellocchio’s mafia pic “The Traitor”; Corneliu Porumboiu’s “The Whistlers”; and Elia Suleiman’s “It Must Be Heaven.”

Key to the country’s filmmaking allure is a generous system of federal and regional funding sources and a dynamic film industry geared toward international co-production.

Leading companies include Pallas Films, whose credits include “It Must Be Heaven” and Sergey Dvortsevoy’s “Ayka”; Pandora Film, co-producer of Alice Winocour’s space drama “Proxima,” starring Eva Green and Matt Dillon, and Bent Hamer’s “The Middle Man”; Komplizen Film, which is backing “The Whistlers” and Ildiko Enyedi’s “The Story of My Wife”; and One Two Films, whose many co-productions include Tomasz Wasilewski’s “Fools” and Grímur Hákonarson’s “The County.”

The German Federal Film Fund (DFFF) is a major funding source with an annual budget of €125 million ($139 million). In 2018, it backed 113 films, including 44 international co-productions, among them Christoffer Boe’s “The Purity of Vengeance,” produced by Zentropa and its German subsidiaries; and Yuval Adler’s spy thriller “The Operative,” whose producers include Germany’s Match Factory Prods., France’s Le Pacte and Israel’s Spiro Films.

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Regional funding in the country likewise plays a vital role.

Kirsten Niehuus, managing director of state funder Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, says the Berlin region in particular “has developed into a center for successful international co-productions with German participation, most of which were funded by the Medienboard. The spectrum ranges from sophisticated arthouse cinema to international blockbusters.”

Many German producers specializing in international projects are based in the Berlin-Brandenburg area, including Studio Babelsberg, which co-produced “A Hidden Life,” and Philippe Bober’s Essential Filmproduktion, which backed “Little Joe.”

The Medienboard last year provided $8.2 million in support for international co-productions, which account for 25% to 30% of its total annual production funding.

The Filmstiftung NRW in North Rhine-Westphalia funds a similar number of co-productions a year. It supported “The Traitor,” co-produced by Match Factory Prods., “Proxima” and upcoming titles like Patrick Vollrath’s airplane thriller “7500,” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, from Augenschein Filmproduktion, and Roy Andersson’s “About Endlessness,” co-produced by Essential Film. Joe Penna’s upcoming sci-fi thriller “Stowaway,” a co-production between XYZ Films, Rise Pictures and Augenschein, is shooting at Bavaria Studios near Munich and at MMC Studios in Cologne. It’s received $1.3 million from the Filmstiftung, $2.2 million from Bavaria’s FFF Bayern and is expected to land further funding from the DFFF.

“NRW has always been an important hub for international co-productions,” Filmstiftung CEO Petra Müller says. “International film crews regularly shoot in NRW, not least because they can count on the support of the Filmstiftung.”

The fact is illustrated by an impressive list of filmmakers who have worked in the state, among them: Claire Denis, Jim Jarmusch, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Bille August, Ron Howard, Ari Folman, Stephen Frears, Stephen Daldry and David Cronenberg.

Müller notes that NRW producers are considered good partners with great experience in international co-productions. “Cologne’s Heimatfilm has been for years a regular production partner for Lars von Trier, who has shot in NRW twice. Match Factory Prods. has established itself in a very short time as an important, international co-producer. Pandora Film has been a valued co-production partner for decades and is an integral part of the international film market.”

Likewise a major contributor to international co-productions, the Berlin Film Festival’s World Cinema Fund (WCF) backed three films that are also premiering in Cannes this year: Afghan filmmaker Shahrbanoo Sadat’s “The Orphanage” and Eddine Ala Slim’s Tunisian drama “Tlamess” both screen in Directors’ Fortnight, while “Ceniza Negra” (Land of Ashes), by Argentinian-Costa Rican writer-director Sofía Quirós Ubeda, unspools in Critics’ Week.

The WCF, launched in 2004, supports cinema in specific regions of the world with less developed film industries, including Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Central and Southeast Asia, and other areas.

While many companies focus on arthouse, some are exploring more mainstream opportunities.

After co-producing Vibeke Idsøe’s “The Lion Woman,” Reza Bahar’s Gifted Films and Norway’s Filmkameratene have re-teamed on “Børning — The Nürburgring Run,” the third instalment in the hit Norwegian “Børning” road race franchise.

“I love the idea of doing a mainstream movie that works in different territories,” says Bahar, who has until now largely focused on arthouse productions. “The goal is to make a box office hit in both countries,” he adds.

Budgeted at$7.8 million, Hallvard Braein’s action comedy features German actors alongside the Norwegian cast. It has so far received $335,000 from the Filmstiftung, and is expected to secure additional regional and federal funding.

As well as its own funding program, the German Federal Film Board (FFA) partners with regional and European funds to support cross-border projects. Initiatives include a German-French co-production initiative, the German-Polish Film Fund and the German-Italian Co-Production Development Fund.

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