LYON, France — Germany’s film heritage sector is celebrating a new federal and state-funded initiative launching in January that will provide €10 million ($11.15 million) a year towards the digitization and preservation of feature films.
Rainer Rother, the artistic director of the Deutsche Kinemathek, outlined the plan at a panel discussion at the Lumière Festival’s International Classic Film Market (MIFC) in Lyon, France, as part of this year’s focus on Germany and the country’s heritage sector.
Rother, who also serves as head of the Berlin Film Festival’s Retrospective sidebar, said the initiative, which is overseen by the German Federal Film Board (FFA), would initially run for 10 years and was based on three criteria: Exploitation interest from rights holders, such as producers or distributors; curatorial interest from film heritage institutions or film festivals; and preservation necessity in the case of damaged film material.
The new digitization support is limited to €40,000 ($44,557) per film. The FFA had previously offered digitization support of €15,000 ($16,740) per film and, since 2016, just €2 million ($2.23 million) a year in total for digitization and preservation.
The initiative, known as the Förderprogramm Filmerbe (FFE), or Film Heritage Funding Program, covers 80% of digitization costs for commercial license holders or production companies but 100% when the applicant is a film heritage institution or other public organization.
Rother said all of the €10 million would be spent in the first year, with heritage film institutions, festivals and preservation efforts accounting for about €6 million ($6.7 million).
The Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin is expected to digitize and preserve around 25 feature-length films and 25 shorts, Rother noted, adding that the Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum in Frankfurt and the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation in Wiesbaden would achieve similar numbers.
Also taking part in the discussion were Fabio Quade, head of sales and distribution at the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation; Claire Brunel, who oversees public relations and business affairs at the Wim Wenders Foundation; Torsten Radeck, head of home entertainment marketing at Studiocanal in Germany; and Levko Kondratjuk, managing partner at Camera Obscura Filmdistribution, a boutique label specializing in Italian genre films.
Brunel noted that the Wenders Foundation had recently restored the director’s 1994 drama “Lisbon Story” and had previously restored 17 films, including “Wings of Desire” and “The American Friend,” in 4K thanks to a special partnership with German pubcaster ZDF, which had licensed many films from the foundation to commemorate the filmmaker’s 70th birthday in 2015 with a TV retrospective on ZDF, Arte and 3Sat.
The foundation used the licensing money nearly exclusively to finance the restorations, along with digitization funding from the FFA that was limited to €15,000 ($16,740) per film, Brunel told Variety.
“Without this license deal we would never have been able to restore so many films so quickly,” Brunel added. The foundation restored the 17 films in a short span of time between 2014 and 2015, but since then it has only managed to restore one film a year due to the high costs of restoration.
“Now there’s a flat rate of €40,000, with 20% that you have to bring, which makes a huge difference for us and will enable us to restore further films,” Brunel said. The foundation owns 51f ilms in the catalog, including 35 features and shorts directed by Wenders and others which he produced, such as “The Left-Handed Woman,” by Peter Handke (this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature recipient and Wenders’ longtime collaborator).
“Out of the 51, we have restored 19. We still have long way to go,” Brunel said.
The Wenders Foundation does not classify films as classics or non-classics, but focuses rather on the filmmaker’s entire body of work, Brunel explained. Echoing comments made earlier at the MIFC by Criterion Collection President Peter Becker, she added: “Our mission is to make this body of work available. We see ourselves as the gateway and not the gatekeeper. That’s our motto.”
The Wenders Foundation last year partnered [https://variety.com/2018/film/festivals/wim-wenders-wings-of-desire-berlin-2018-berlinale-1202720958/] with Studiocanal for the theatrical re-release of “Wings of Desire.” The release was a big classic film success for Studiocanal, Radeck said, noting that at one sold-out screening attended by Wenders, more than half the audience had never seen the film. “They were young people,” Radeck added. “That’s a good sign.