Why Spencer Is a German Film, and How Im Your Man Reflects the Best in New German Cinema
To the uninitiated, Princess Diana biopic “Spencer” might appear like the quintessential British film, albeit with a Chilean director and an American star. But it is, in fact, German, Simone Baumann, managing director of German Films, says. It’s a German-U.K. co-production to be exact, but shot in Germany, with a German producer, Komplizen Film, on board, and 70% of the financing was German.
Other German co-productions this year include Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” with Studio Babelsberg as a co-producer, as well as a host of arthouse films not in the German language, such as Leos Carax’s “Annette,” which was co-produced by Detailfilm, Michelangelo Frammartino’s “Il Buco,” co-produced by Essential Filmproduktion, and Tatiana Huezo’s “Prayers for the Stolen,” co-produced by Match Factory Productions.
At AFM, there are 31 German productions and co-productions screening, represented by nine German sales companies, gathered under the German Films umbrella. German sales companies represent films drawn from a wide range of countries. The Match Factory, for example, represents the Oscar entries of six countries: Austria (“Great Freedom”), Colombia (“Memoria”), Greece (“Digger”), Israel (“Let It Be Morning”), Japan (“Drive My Car”), and Mexico (“Prayers for the Stolen”).
It is hard to define what a German film is nowadays, says Baumann, whose organization promotes German films outside the country. Even among the German-language films, what is being produced is far from predictable. Films set during the Nazi era are becoming less common, while other periods are being explored. Dominik Graf’s Berlinale title “Fabian – Going to the Dogs,” for example, is set in Berlin in the early 1930s, during the pre-Hitler, Weimar Republic era.
This year’s crop of German films demonstrate the diversity of genres being produced, including the country’s entry for the international feature film Oscar, Maria Schrader’s sci-fi romantic comedy “I’m Your Man.” The film has been sold to more than 80 countries, making it Germany’s most successful film this year in terms of international sales, and was also one of the best received critically. It was released in the U.S. by Bleecker Street in late September, earning $261,500 in theaters so far.
The film has a strong cast, led by Dan Stevens and Maren Eggert, and in Schrader it has one of the world’s “most wanted and talented directors,” Baumann says, following the success of “Unorthodox.” “It’s a really good combination of talent, and a very good film, so we hope to make it at least to the [Oscar] short-list,” she says.
German Films is supporting the Oscar campaign, together with Bleecker Street, Letterbox, the film’s producer, and Beta Cinema, its world sales company. Nicole Kaufmann, who’s in charge of German Films’ efforts in North America, is leading the organization’s work on the Oscar campaign, supported by Sara Stevenson at the German films office at the Goethe-Institut in New York.
One reason for the increasing diversity of German production – both films and series – is the rising influence of the streamers and pay TV platforms, whose international outlook is broadening the mindset of producers, Baumann says, as well as the declining influence of Germany’s free-TV channels, which are cutting back on their investment in cinema. “We got more global, I think,” Baumann says. This is affecting “the choice of stories, and the choice of subjects,” she adds. “I’m Your Man” – in which an archaeologist dates an android – exemplifies this shift. “This is a different subject; it has humor; and it’s really, really well executed. It’s a different type of film,” she says.
Some claim that German cinema punches below its weight on the festival circuit, but Baumann feels that given the competitive environment they have not done that badly this year.
There wasn’t a majority German film in the Cannes official lineup, but there were 21 minority co-productions there, including 50% German productions like Sebastian Meise’s “The Great Freedom” and Kornél Mundruczó’s “Evolution.” In Venice, there was “Spencer,” which – as previously mentioned – Baumann counts as a German film. At Locarno, German actor Saskia Rosendahl got an award for Sabrina Sarabi’s “No One’s With the Calves.” There were three German films in competition in Karlovy Vary, three films in competition in Warsaw, two of which were awarded, and there will be three German films in Tallinn.
This was a pretty good performance given that “the lineups of the festivals got much more competitive,” Baumann says. “You have more and more films competing for these slots.”
There are four main reasons for this, she says. First, the pandemic delayed the production of many films, which are now being presented to festivals. Second, some festivals were cancelled while others cut down the number of films selected, leading to a bottle-neck. Third, some producers didn’t want their films in a virtual edition of a festival, so waited for the physical versions to return. Fourth, festival are now making more of an effort to select films from outside Europe and North America.
The three films at Karlovy Vary demonstrate the diversity of German filmmaking, she says, each looking at different aspects of contemporary society: Dietrich Brüggemann’s relationship comedy “Nö,” Lisa Bierwirth’s debut “Le Prince,” the story of a love affair between a Congolese businessman and an art gallery curator from Frankfurt, and “The Exam” by Shawkat Amin Korki, a filmmaker living in Germany, but telling a story about a young woman living in his home country, Iraqi Kurdistan.
Foreign distributors of German films can apply for financial support for their releases, which helps attract buyers. German films set for a release this year include Daniel Brühl’s “Next Door,” Dominik Graf’s “Fabian – Going to the Dogs,” Tim Fehlbaum’s Berlinale title “Tides,” and Johannes Naber’s “Curveball,” which premiered at the Berlinale in 2020, but whose release was delayed.
As well as promoting finished films, German Films is increasingly promoting films at an earlier stage in the production process, when they are in works in progress and pitching programs, such as those run by the Torino Film Lab and the Rotterdam Lab. This is “because we understand very well if we want to get our films out internationally, we have to start early,” Baumann says.
There’s a double goal in this. The first goal is to improve the ability of German producers to work internationally, to reach the necessary quality threshold for the international market, and to improve the projects at an early stage so they can travel.
The second goal is to promote the films in the market. “If you get selected to something like Torino or even Rotterdam you will have this final pitching session where all the festival programmers are attending, and also there will be sales agents, so you’re in good company,” she says.
“At an early stage you’ll get at least mentioned once, so when the film is finished, some people might remember it, and that makes a difference when you submit today for a big festival, where you have between 3,000 and 6,000 submissions, and it’s difficult to ring a bell. But if the programmer already has heard the name of the director and the title of the project, it’s different. I know it from my own experience as a producer actually.”
German Films is also focusing much more on animation this year, and will continue to so next year. Animated features at AFM include Sola Media’s “Rabbit Academy – Mission Eggpossible” and “Welcome to Siegheilkirchen” from Picture Tree International.
AFM Market Screenings of German Films and German International Co-Productions:
ATLAS INTERNATIONAL FILM
“Borga” Dir: York-Fabian Raabe
“Stille” Dir: Erik Borner
“How to Please a Woman” Dir: Renée Webster
“Diabolik” Dir: Manetti Bros.
“Tuesday Club” Dir: Annika Appelin
“It’s Just a Phase, Honey Bunny” Dir: Florian Gallenberger
“Land of Dreams” Dir: Shirin Neshat & Shoja Azari
“The Odd-Job Men” Dir: Neus Ballús
“Hinterland” Dir: Stefan Ruzowitzky
“Toubab” Dir: Florian Dietrich
“The Conference” (Wannseekonferenz) Dir: Matti Geschonneck
“Christiane F.” (Christiane F. Wir Kinder Vom Bahnhof Zoo) Dir: Uli Edel
“Who We Were” Dir: Marc Bauder
“Devil’s Drivers” Dir: Daniel Carsenty & Mohammed Abugeth
“Dear Future Children” Dir: Franz Böhm
“Inside the Uffizi” Dir: Corinna Belz and Enrique Sánchez Lansch
MEDIA LUNA NEW FILMS
“The Shadow Hour” Dir: Benjamin Martins
“In the Light of the Night” Dir: Misha Kreuz
“The Ugly Truth” Dir: Krishna Ashu Bhati
PICTURE TREE INTERNATIONAL
“The Black Square” Dir: Peter Meister
“The Painter” Dir: Oliver Hirschbiegel
“Welcome to Siegheilkirchen” Dir: Marcus H. Rosenmüller, Santiago López Jover
“Chasing the Line” Dir: Andreas Schmied
“Contra” Dir: Sönke Wortmann
“Rabbit Academy – Mission Eggpossible” Dir: Ute Von Münchow-Pohl (In production)
THE PLAYMAKER MUNICH
“The House” Dir: Rick Ostermann
“A Pure Place” Dir: Nikias Chryssos
“Lifeguard Off Duty” Dir: Marcus H. Rosenmüller
“The Albanian Virgin” Dir: Bujar Alimani
“And Tomorrow We Will Be Dead” Dir: Michael Steiner
“Monte Verità” Dir: Stefan Jäger
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