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‘Bad Banks’ Producer Letterbox Boards Contrast Film’s ‘Davos’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Caged Birds
Credit: Contrast Film

Letterbox Filmproduktion, producer of ZDF-Arte hit “Bad Banks” – and part of the Studio Hamburg Production Group that backed Netflix’s “Unorthodox” – has boarded “Davos,” a high-end drama series from Zurich-based film producer Contrast Film, producer of “Wonderland.”

“Davos,” a period espionage thriller, is being written by Switzerland’s Adrian Illien, a former producer at Swiss public broadcaster SRF of crime series “Tatort” and Germany’s Julia Penner, head writer on seasons 3, 4 and 5 of “Druck,” Germany’s adaptation of “Skam.”

Budgeted at $13 million, Contrast Film’s Ivan Madeo told Variety, “Davos” is a pioneering high-end drama series for Switzerland, for which Contrast has turned to one of the country’s biggest assets as an international content creators: Switzerland’s mystique as a setting for geo-political power play often tied to the extraordinary influence Switzerland is held to exert on the world’s financial systems.

The Swiss Alpine resort of Davos hosts the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. The series suggests the importance of the town dates back much earlier, however. It is set there as World War I rages in Europe and the elite of the war powers meet, supposedly for medical treatment, but in reality to negotiate the outcome of the conflict. In the series, a young nurse at Davos is recruited by a female master in a high-stakes power play deciding war or peace.

The six-part series tells “a story that is relevant to the whole of Europe and changed the history of the 20th century,” said Contrast Film’s Stefan Eichenberger.

Produced by Madeo and Eichenberger, “Davos” was introduced at the Berlinale Series Market in 2019 – the first Swiss series to be presented there – and then at the TorinoFilmLab Extended TV Series 2020 workshop this February. “Davos” will shoot in Switzerland, Germany and Belgium, Madeo said.

The Letterbox-Contrast co-production deal announcement on “Davos” comes as Contrast diversifies ever more into TV production, preparing two “Tatort Zurich” episodes for Swiss public broadcaster SRF that are scheduled to shoot from January to April 2021.

The Swiss spinoff from the most famous crime series in the German-speaking world, which was first broadcast on German pubic broadcaster ARD in 1970, “Tatort’s” Zurich episodes star Carol Schuler and Anna Pieri Zuercher as the investigating detectives. They are directed by young Swiss filmmaker Christine Repond (“Silver Wall,” “Vacuum”) and written by Stefanie Veith (“Sitting Next to Zoe”) and Nina Vukovic (“Purple Sunrise”).

The drive into TV will afford Contrast Film larger audiences, Madeo argued.

“Good TV productions are films almost everybody knows. It is appealing to produce films that can be seen by a really wide audience; films that shape popular culture and thus our common values and basic principles,” Madeo said.

Contrast’s TV build doesn’t mean, however, that it has given up on movie production. Quite the contrary. “Serial storytelling shows all the more clearly what intriguing opportunities lie in the consolidated 90-minute or even shorter format; how you can play creatively with deliberate omissions,” he said. “So, the change between TV and theatrical formats primarily makes us more conscious and virtuoso narrators.”

Also inspired by true events – turning on Switzerland’s most famous criminal, Walter Storm, hero of Germany’s post Bader Meinhof radical left and his relationship with his long-time lawyer, Barbara Hug – “Caged Birds” (a.k.a. “Storm”), from Oliver Rihs (“Ready Steady Ommm”), is set for theatrical release by Ascot Elite on Jan. 14 in Switzerland and Feb. 25 in Germany via Port au Prince Pictures.

Produced by Contrast Film Zurich, Port au Prince Filmproduktion Berlin and Stuttgart’s Niama Film, and backed by public TV channel Arte, “Caged Birds” will world premiere at Filmfest Hamburg before seguing to the main competition of an “A”-list festival.

Produced with Italy’s DocLab Rome, the only company to win a Venice festival Golden Lion with a documentary, Gianfranco Rosi’s “Sacro Gra,” doc feature “Caveman,” about the dramatic life of artist Filippo Dobrilla, will be completed this month by its first-time director Tommaso Landucci.

An intimate doc feature about how people travel across Europe to evade their countries’ restrictive laws and ethics, “Stray Bodies,” directed by Greece’s Elina Psykou, will go into production in September, aiming to shoot across four European countries.

Produced by Contrast Film Zurich, Jungle Films/Anemon Production (Greece), DocLab Rome (Italy) and Red Carpet (Bulgaria), it has won support from the national film funding agencies in all four of its co-production countries as well as from pan-European fund Eurimages.

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Caveman Credit: Contrast Film