German Film Business Eyes Funding Revamp Warily

After four Oscar wins for “All Quiet on the Western Front” last year and the Oscar nomination for “The Teachers’ Lounge” this year, Germany’s film sector seemed to be on the up, but while a government plan to revamp the country’s film funding system is broadly welcomed, its painfully slow progress is also causing some anxiety.

The fact that Cannes’ various sections contain not one feature by a German filmmaker may be seen as a cause for concern, but 13 German productions and co-productions have been selected. This underscores how Germany’s current funding structures nurture co-productions, which in turn benefits local producers. For example, both Karim Aïnouz’s “Motel Destino” and Miguel Gomes’ “Grand Tour” in the Competition section have Germany’s Match Factory Productions as a co-producer.

The Berlinale was a better showcase for German talent, with Matthias Glasner picking up the screenplay award for “Dying,” and some major German films are eyeing a berth at Venice or Toronto, while others won’t be ready until next year. Among the leading German directors with films coming up are Tom Tykwer with “The Light,” “The Teachers’ Lounge” helmer İlker Çatak with “Yellow Letters,” and Fatih Akin with “Amrum.”

Meanwhile, German producers are mulling the impact of the country’s culture and media minister Claudia Roth’s proposals to overhaul the funding system, which includes the introduction of a 30% tax incentive and an obligation for streamers to invest 20% of their revenue in European content.

Martin Moszkowicz, who recently segued from being CEO at Constantin Film – which just had a massive box office hit in Bora Dagtekin’s “Chantal and the Magic Kingdom” – to an inhouse producing role, welcomes the move, but acknowledges that it’s a “huge undertaking.”

“It’s complicated because of the budget situation in Germany, similar to that all over the world, and because of all the stakeholders – distributors, exhibitors and producers,” he says. “I applaud her for trying to do that, but time is running out. There needs to be a new film law in effect in January next year, and it has to go through Parliament, and so on.”

He adds that the “worst-case scenario is that there is a gap between the old film law and the new film law […] because that has a knock-on effect on the planning of projects.”

Simone Baumann, managing director of German Films, which oversees the export of German films, says that local producers have become overwhelmingly pessimistic. There has been a substantial drop in commissions by the streamers, and although investment by broadcasters in content has been stable, the cost of production has increased substantially. The German box office has also yet to recover fully from the pandemic. In 2019, there were 118.6 million admissions in theaters, and last year it was 95.7 million.

Against this backdrop, the proposed changes in the funding system has increased a sense of insecurity among producers. “It’s not clear if it’s going to happen and when. If they start new projects, they have to rely on something; they have to understand [how it’s going to work], because if you start a new project in 2024, you have to understand what will be the situation in 2025 in terms of financing and releasing films, and this is a kind of black box, and it troubles them a lot. So, they are really in a shaky situation,” Baumann says.

One piece of good news is that funding provided by German Films, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary, to support the international distribution of German films has been increased by Euros 200,000 ($215,000) to Euros 950,000 ($1.02 million), Baumann says.

Despite this boost in distribution support, co-managing director of sales company Picture Tree Intl. Andreas Rothbauer is withering about the approach of the German government toward the export of local films. “There is no interest, there is no knowledge, there is no strategy for international whatsoever,” he says. Roughly 2% of the annual overall German film budget is spent on international measures, he says, and of the more than 200 films produced in Germany every year, not even half have a sales agent. He suggests that public funding should come with an obligation to attach a sales agent.

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