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Simone Baumann • Managing director, German Films

“We produce a lot of movies, but the funding system doesn’t give filmmakers so much creative freedom”


- As the Cannes Film Festival kicks off, German Films’ managing director, Simone Baumann, discusses the presence of German movies and co-productions at international film gatherings

Simone Baumann  • Managing director, German Films
(© Kurt Krieger)

In April 2019, Simone Baumann took over as managing director of German Films. She is an independent producer who had already served as German Films’ representative in Central and Eastern Europe since 2003. We chatted to her about the presence of German movies and co-productions at the Cannes Film Festival (14-25 May) and other gatherings.

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Cineuropa: Why are there no German films being presented in the official programme of the Cannes Film Festival?
Simone Baumann:
This question is very difficult to answer because there were a lot of submissions, but the festival didn’t select any German films in terms of majority production and the German language. We have a couple of co-productions where Germany is the minority producer, and we have the Terrence Malick film A Hidden Life, which is a majority German co-production with a strong German cast. It is not easy to answer why there was not a single German film selected for any of the festival sections. We produce a lot of movies, but the funding system doesn’t give filmmakers so much creative freedom. There are a lot of regulations, but in fact, if somebody has a very good idea and an original approach, they can get this project financed. I think a certain proportion of the German titles that are produced are made for theatrical distribution in Germany, but they might not be classic festival films. But even those movies that had festival potential were not selected for Cannes. We hope that some of these films will be shown at Locarno, Karlovy Vary, San Sebastián, Venice or Toronto.

Why is Germany such an interesting country when it comes to co-productions?
Germany has quite a rich funding system, and there is room for national projects, for majority German productions and also for a lot of minority productions. We have a bunch of very good producers who specialise in co-productions. Some of our best producers, such as those at Komplizen Film, are very successful at both approaches. They produce films like Toni Erdmann and Western, and on the other hand, they co-produce a lot of great movies. They are the co-producers of The Whistlers by Corneliu Porumboiu, which is being presented in the Cannes Competition.

How can this problem be tackled? Do talents need more creative freedom?
The funding system is forcing producers to go into production with almost all of the projects they have developed. They should have the possibility to develop many more projects and not continue with them at a later stage if they find out that a project is not working very well. It is crucial that the producers get paid for the development process, so that they can start on another project. This will lead to a situation where they only go into production with projects that have real potential. At that level, they should get great financing support, including promotion.

In Germany, we use the shotgun approach, which means that the funding money is given out to a lot of projects. Maybe it’s not the ideal system. We should invest more in script development and project development because many projects are not sufficiently well developed. On the other hand, there should be more room for experimental projects that are not related to a specific market right from the beginning. Most of the film funds require a theatrical release, a company that is going to release the film theatrically, or a TV station that is interested in it. Of course, a filmmaker has to think of his or her audience and who is going to watch the movie, but some of the projects should have the freedom to do whatever they want; to create without having the added pressure of immediately getting a distribution contract.

What about the young generation, such as the Next Generation filmmakers at Cannes? Are they affected by this commercial pressure?
The short films are mainly made by students from film schools where filmmakers have more freedom to develop and tell a story, and to try something new. The film students in Germany are very strong and have received various Student Oscars. We have a long tradition, many film schools and a higher output. At this stage, filmmakers have more freedom.

At Cannes, German Films is organising the German Screenings. What are the highlights in the line-up?
At the Cannes Marché du Film, together with the sales companies, we are presenting 22 “New German Films” that were finished by the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019. A few of the movies premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, such as Roads by Sebastian Schipper and A Regular Woman by Sherry Hormann. Also on the line-up are some titles from the 2019 Berlinale Competition, such as The Golden Glove by Fatih Akin and System Crasher by Nora Fingscheidt. We are also showing The Collini Case by Marco Kreuzpaintner, which has already been successful at the German box office.

What kind of distribution support does German Films provide for German movies that are released abroad?
We support the theatrical release of German films abroad. Distributors from other countries can apply to our distribution support scheme, for which we have about four or five sessions per year. The distributors can get additional support for the promotion and the release of the film. This can be a subsidy or a loan, depending on the amount and the size of the campaign for the movie. There is high demand for our distribution support: in 2019, we have already supported 91 releases of German films abroad.

Which films are working well internationally?
Animation is a real bestseller. Forty percent of the sales are animated films. Most of the animation projects are already sold internationally before the movies even go into production. Further international sales include Never Look Away by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, The Golden Glove and All About Me by Caroline Link. The number of German films that are sold internationally is more or less stable, depending on the territory. In terms of the box office, we had a real surprise hit on our hands: Heilstätten by Michael David Pate was a huge box-office smash in Argentina and other parts of South America.

What are the hottest upcoming German titles that foreign distributors should be looking out for over the next few months?
Several great filmmakers will be presenting their new movies. Among them are Katrin Gebbe, Burhan Qurbani and Jan-Ole Gerster. So I am quite sure that we will have more German films at other international festivals than we have at Cannes this year.

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