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Benny Drechsel and Karsten Stöter • Producers, Rohfilm

An international dimension

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- A portrait of the production company Rohfilm

Benny Drechsel and Karsten Stöter • Producers, Rohfilm

“We’ve been able to realize most of what we intended at the outset and have remained true to our planned positioning,” says Benny Drechsel, one half of the Berlin-based production house Rohfilm which he had set up with fellow producer Karsten Stöter in 2005.  “Initially, we had a focus on Eastern Europe,” recalls Stöter, “but then this was expanded to include the whole world because, when we were at the various co-production markets, we came across such great projects in the regional markets. This has been a direction we want to follow to pursue and discover new international talents of auteur cinema.”

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While Rohfilm’s first co-production was Artem Antonov’s war film Polumgla in 2005, Drechsel says that the company’s “first real international project” followed in 2007 with Marat Sarulu’s Song From the Southern Seas, which was shot in Kyrgyzstan. The duo then served as co-producers on Bosnian filmmaker Aida Begic’s Snow [+see also:
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and Argentine Pablo Agüero’s Salamandra, which were presented at Cannes in 2008.

“Some of the projects on our original slate were realized quite quickly,” Stöter adds. “And then others like Buddha’s Little Finger are only now in post-production.” Tony Pemberton’s film marked Rohfilm’s first foray into English-language production. “The film is quite ambitious and is set on two time planes, so it was clear that it would take longer to produce,” Stöter explains.

Meanwhile, one of Rohfilm’s projects – Cate Shortland’s German-language production Lore [+see also:
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– came about through the contact Stöter made with UK director Paul Welsh during their participation in the EAVE producers’ training program. “I was interested right away because the story was told through the prism of a 14-year-old girl, old enough to understand what happened, but too young to be really guilty,”

Stöter recalls. “This kind of ambivalent perspective is not common in German films about the Second World War and the Holocaust and is challenging for some people here.”

“The great thing about international co-productions is that one learns such a lot about other cultures and other production working methods,” Drechsel observes. “Your horizon is expanded considerably when you are working with producers and directors from, say, India, Israel or Kazakhstan.”

This is not to say that they haven’t worked with local German filmmakers over the past eight years: two documentaries were made with Peter Dörfler – Achterbahn – Catapult and The Big Eden as well as Jan Zabeil’s The River Used To Be A Man, starring and co-written by Alexander Fehling at locations in Africa. The duo look specifically for German projects with an international dimension. “We are not only wanting to make films which have success on the international film circuit, but also looking for projects which could have a chance on the German market,” Drechsel adds. “We don’t want just to keep to tried and tested formulae, but would like to contribute to a development of a new cinema which finds its audience.”

To this end, the next chapter in Rohfilm’s development could see it going in the direction of European co-productions in the budget bracket of 5 – 7 million euros. “It is not an easy sector, but I think we are at the stage where we could be the right partners for such projects,” Drechsel continues. “People seem to see us in a different way.”

Indeed, Rohfilm’s achievements so far were given an official seal of approval this year when the Berlinale’s Co-Production Market selected the company to be part of its Company Matching Program with such players as France’s Agat Films & Cie, Brazil’s Bossa Nova Films and The Netherlands’ Lemming Films.

Another development is where Rohfilm initially serves as a coproducer on a filmmaker’s project and then becomes the delegate producer on a subsequent production. This has currently happened with Israel’s Hagar Ben Asher and Argentina’s Rodrigo Moreno: Rohfilm co-produced Asher’s The Slut [+see also:
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and Moreno’s A Mysterious World. “We are now producing their new films – Asher’s The Burglar and Moreno’s Reimon – as the main producer and have been involved from the development stage,” Stöter notes.

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