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Jonas Katzenstein, Maximilian Leo • Producers

Looking beyond borders


- The duo from Germany Jonas Katzenstein and Maximilian Leo talk about their production company, augenschein Filmproduktion

Jonas Katzenstein, Maximilian Leo  • Producers

2014 is turning out to be a busy year for Jonas Katzenstein and Maximilian Leo’s Cologne-based company augenschein Filmproduktion, with the production of international projects underway around the globe from Romania (Florin Serban’s Box) to Kazakhstan (Emir Baigazin’s The Wounded Angel) and Singapore (Boo Junfeng’s Apprentice), as well as productions in their home country. And the year also started well with premieres of augenschein films at Sundance (the co-production The Disobedient [+see also:
festival scope
film profile
by Mina Djukic) and the Berlinale (Maximilian Leo’s feature debut My Brother’s Keeper [+see also:
film profile
). But how did this new young player on the international co-production scene get started?

Eight years ago, film student Maximilian Leo was looking for someone to handle the sound post-production for his short film at Cologne’s Academy of Media Arts (KHM), and this brought him into contact with the sound engineer Jonas Katzenstein, who had set up his own sound studio. “We hit it off and then started working on projects together,” Leo recalls. “This happened more and more until we launched a firm together and then established a fully fledged production company, augenschein Filmproduktion, six years ago. From the outset, we were involved in international co-productions,” he continues, with the producer duo making their first foray onto the international stage at the Mannheim Meeting Place (the successor of the Mannheim Meetings) in 2010. “We had attended the International Producing course organised by Simon Perry at the International Film School (IFS) in Cologne, and he encouraged us to go to the co-production markets,” Katzenstein explains. “And two weeks after Mannheim, we were at our next co-production gathering at Connecting Cottbus for East European film projects. Since then, we have gone every year to the Cinemart at Rotterdam, the Berlinale Co-Production Market and L’Atelier at Cannes.”

Being a young, aspiring new production outfit from North Rhine-Westphalia, augenschein had the Film- und Medien- stiftung NRW on its side very early on and so could become minority partners on films from Brazil (Philippe Barcinski’s Amid Valleys and Mountains) and Belgium (Fien Troch’s Kid [+see also:
festival scope
film profile

“Our track record means that the international co-productions we are now involved in are growing in stature along with the names of the directors involved, and that is also of positive benefit for our own productions,” Leo observes. “We have a feeling for what is possible in Germany and what the TV stations are likely to back here. But it is also good to look beyond the borders, and we now have an idea, for example, of the kind of Romanian films in demand at festivals and can select our projects accordingly.”

To date, the young production outfit’s output has been an eclectic mix of documentary and fiction feature films. “As a small, independent company, we are focused on the arthouse segment because we are interested in auteur directors,” Leo says. “We were only established six years ago, so we have tended to focus on younger directors."

Apart from their international co-productions, the company has also worked on German productions, the documentary projects being finished first, until Leo made his feature debut with My Brother’s Keeper, the opening film of the Perspektive Deutsches Kino at this year’s Berlinale. “Documentaries are faster in the development and production processes than fiction feature films,” Leo says. Next year should see shooting on augenschein’s next German-based feature project, the drama Volt by self-taught director Tarek Ehlail, who is based in Saarbrücken and didn’t attend film school. Broadcasters SR, SWR and ARTE are already on board as partners.

As for how the two producers handle the workload at the company, Leo answers: “We have our own special model: it’s not a case of one project being mine and another belonging to Jonas – we produce the projects together, and we are backed by a team of six employees now.” This team includes an in-house line producer, a head of finance and projects as well as a junior producer, an accountant and a technical assistant for the in-house post-production.

“We won’t be leaving the segment of first and second filmmakers behind,” Katzenstein stresses. “But the next step for the company would be to work also with more experienced directors such as Romania’s Calin Peter Netzer.” He adds that another development for the future could come with a cooperation arrangement with the MMC studios in Cologne. This cooperation could also lead augenschein on to higher-budget productions outside of the arthouse segment quite soon.

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