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U.S. Market Is Key for German Cinema but Tough to Crack

U.S. distribution deals for German films are of great strategic value for international rollouts, but lucrative prospects largely depend on the type of film on offer.

The spectrum of German film continues to broaden, encompassing everything from arthouse, historical drama and family entertainment to animation, action and horror – not to mention English-language German productions.

“With German-language dramas that do well at festivals and gain some prestige, you do have high chances of finding a passionate U.S. indie distributor who will release your film in limited cinemas in New York, L.A., Chicago and other major U.S. cities,” says Moritz Hemminger, deputy head of sales and acquisitions at ARRI Media.

“Economically, the U.S., for those kind of films, isn’t always the most financially lucrative market, but a sale there helps for the international sales strategy, as a U.S. distribution deal can trigger international sales in other territories,” he adds.

It has, however, become more difficult for U.S. distributors to convince exhibitors to program foreign-language movies in the U.S., Hemminger points out.

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ARRI has found U.S. distribs for titles like Cordula Kablitz-Post’s historical drama “In Love with Lou,” which went to Cinema Libre, and Caroline Link’s father-son road movie “Exit Marrakech,” picked up by Adopt Films.

The company also sold Oliver Kienle’s thriller “Four Hands” to Cleopatra Entertainment for a limited theatrical release, and Dominik Hartl’s Austrian horror pic “Party Hard, Die Young” to AMC Networks as part of a multiple-territory deal for its Shudder platform.

Julia Weber, head of theatrical sales and acquisitions at Global Screen, says three kinds of films sell well in North America, namely, “blue chip animated features, such as ‘Luis and the Aliens,’ sophisticated and still entertaining films like ‘The Collini Case’ or ‘Crescendo,’ and well produced intriguing thrillers such as ‘Cut Off.’”

Weber notes that while the production value and script quality of German films is much appreciated, German-language and English-language German productions face vastly different prospects. Whereas German-language films are quickly pushed into the arthouse sector, regardless of budget or style, English-language films enjoy much greater opportunities.

Some U.S. distribs are therefore dubbing German pics.

“This is something that one of our distributors is currently doing,” Weber says. The distrib is dubbing the film into English using the original cast in order to further distribute it after its theatrical release via VoD and electronic sell-through.

Good press and positive reviews are vital for successful releases, says Picture Tree Intl. co-managing director Andreas Rothbauer.

Picture Tree recently sold Marie Kreutzer’s Berlinale competition title “The Ground Beneath My Feet” to Strand Releasing.

The New York Times’ Glenn Kenny gave the film a major boost with his writeup, in which he calls the work “crafty, first-rank filmmaking.”

Sony Pictures Classics this year released Florian Henckel von Donnersmark’s German-language “Never Look Away” and, last year, Rupert Everett’s “The Happy Prince,” an English-language German production – both sold by Beta Cinema.

“Historical dramas have always sold well in the U.S.,” notes Beta Cinema CEO Dirk Schürhoff, noting that about 90% of the company’s sales in the U.S. are for theatrical release.

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