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PRODUCERS ON THE MOVE 2022 Germany

Alexander Wadouh • Producer, Chromosom Film

"'Quickly' is a word that doesn’t belong in cinema"

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- Selected as part of Producers on the Move, the German producer tells us about the importance for filmmakers to take their time

Alexander Wadouh • Producer, Chromosom Film

Alexander Wadouh worked at Essential Filmproduktion and later founded his own company Chromosom Film. He is now developing the likes of Lucie Loose’s What You Call Love, about dysfunctional relationships, or Florian Hoffmann’s Time of the Monsters, taking place in 1914 and revolving around a vaccine against “the sleeping sickness” in Togo. Now selected for Producers on the Move, he talked with us about his work and his vision.

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Cineuropa: Are you looking forward to seeing other participants in Cannes this year?
Alexander Wadouh: I won’t be there for too long, but it seems it will be very busy – we will make up for the last two years. It will be fantastic to see all these international partners. During the Berlinale, hardly anyone was here [due to Covid restrictions]. You were trying your best not to meet.

You have been a producer for a while now, I think we can safely say that without making you sound like a 100-year-old man.
I have been in the business for 23 years – I started when I was 19. At first, I wanted to be an actor, I wanted the glitz and the glamour, then I thought about directing. I applied for a producing class at the DFFB [German Film and Television Academy Berlin] almost by chance. And they took me! I didn’t have a clue what producing was.

Later, I got a chance to work for Philippe Bober for Coproduction Office and Essential Filmproduktion. I always wanted to do international co-productions – that was one of my goals. I worked on Import/Export [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
by Ulrich Seidl, on Ilya Khrzhanovsky’s Dau, which they shot 10 years later, or Kornél Mundruczó’s Delta. I wanted to pursue these high-end arthouse films also with my own company, which I funded in 2006. Then again, such filmmakers are demanding and it’s hard to work on these films sometimes. I thought: “I would like to focus on a different area of international co-production with people who are not so exhausting.” Even though it was an inspiring time.

How do you look for partners now? On your website it says you value “long-term alliances.”
I did two films with [Amsterdam-based production company] Topkapi and I learnt a lot from them. When they come to me with a project, I am halfway on board – you can rely on these partners. Same with directors. Once you get to know them, it’s easier to continue – you have an understanding. We do many first features, so we are part of the team that’s building them up and we teach them about producing, too.

That’s interesting. Usually, a director is not expected to know how producing works.
Some are open to it, they are even interested, others have no access to the way their producers think. But when we tell them that something is too expensive, there is little resistance – it’s not like we are driving around in a Ferrari and they can barely survive. There is this mutual trust. Also, arthouse is not where you make a lot of money, so we focus more on whether we can we make this film happen. Can we finance it, will it come to life?

Sometimes, we have younger directors who want to rush into their next projects. They need to understand that it takes time. People don’t know if your project is going to get better – they judge based on what they see. “Quickly” is a word that doesn’t belong in cinema. Nothing is quick and nothing is cheap.

It takes time to make documentaries, too. What’s the biggest difficulty when you work on them, or maybe the biggest advantage?
You are more flexible. You can spread things out. Right now, we are shooting Gabrielle Brady’s The Wolves Always Come at Night in Mongolia. It took a long time to prepare, but now two people will go there. The hard part is that in Germany, film funds tend to judge projects on a commercial level. They want to see if there is cinema potential, but documentaries don’t always end up there and you can’t attach high-profile cast to impresses people. Now, we are shooting test scenes and footage that we can present to film funds and financiers.

You have been telling complex, diverse stories before it was on everyone’s minds. Is it still your ambition?
Most of our projects are complicated, you are right. They are set abroad, dealing with topics like terrorism that are not easy to digest. But we didn’t make something like Borga [+see also:
interview: York-Fabian Raabe
film profile
]
because we wanted to make a “diverse film.” We look for interesting stories and interesting filmmakers who have something to say.

When we shot Layla M. [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, it was the height of the Syrian war. I am half Syrian and I was asking myself if my grandmother be proud or angry, seeing her people portrayed like that. Or take Island of the Hungry Ghosts [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, where stories of mainly Bangladeshi refugees were juxtaposed with the crab migration that has been going on in that place for ages. When you see these films, you know what the world was thinking – they came from a specific time. They are not Marvel movies that focus on something general, like the importance of friendship or love. More people go to see Marvel or Bond, which is fine, but that’s not why I wanted to make films.

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