I attended two of the most interesting talks during this year´s festival: Kinofilm und Fernsehförderung – eine glückliche Liaison? (Film and TV funding – a happy relationship?) and Berlin Mumblecore – Neues Independent Cinema aus Deutschland (Berlin Mumblecore – New independent Cinema from Germany).
They both focused on the state of film funding in Germany and they both ended with a gruesome reality check.
During the first talk, Birgit Mehler, a former RBB commisssioner was confronted with two film producers, Gunter Hanfgarn from Hagnfarn & Ufer and freelance producer Miriam Klein developing the discussion on how the film funding in Germany is established and the precarious possibilities these present to film producers.
First Mehler explained how a TV station gets involved in co-producing a project. First a 1 to 2 page sheet document (for documentaries) is sent to the Chief commissioners to propose the relevance of the theme, the way they plan to realize it and what the content is. For ficiton films normally a treatment is needed. After the chief commissioners show interest in your project then you usually knock the doors at Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg (in the case of Berlin and RBB). The networks will not jump into production without a financing institution on board. And the first thing the financing institution will ask is if you have a letter of intent from a local TV station. After that then you have to wait, and wait, and wait. Be patient she said. They end up doing around 5 or 6 documentaries a year, the numbers for fiction lie around 1 or 2.
Miriam Klein stated that they had once to set for a 30.000€ budget to produce a debut film of a student to be shown in a TV station. She said it is somewhat unfair that they give peanuts to make a film which in return make the job of a producer a living hell, but nonetheless delivering a quality product that TV stations get the right to broadcast without further compensations.
The talk went on and on about the unfairness of the system and the archaic model that funding schemes follow in Germany. Hanfgarn stated a cruel reality: Flm schools graduate around 500 aspiring filmmakers every year and TV stations produce 1 to 2 ficiton fillm or 5 to 7 documentaries a year! And we are not counting self-taught filmmakers, graduates from less reognized or private schools and international filmmakers flooding the city in search of a piece of the pie. So what to do? Hanfgarn ended saying: “We have to conquer the money from the TV Stations that belong to us”.
There really are no answers, but some insight was provided on the next talk about Mumblecore in Berlin.
Tom Lass, director of Papa Gold, Heiko Pinkowski, actor and producer of Dicke Mädchen, Jost Hering of Jost Hering films and Hannes Brühwiler from Unknown Pleasures, American Independent Film Fest were up.
Hannes Brühwiller started explaining what Mumblecore is. If you haven´t seen it, go ahead and watch an interview I did with Joe Swanberg a year ago. He is one of the Mumblecore pioneers and he also explains what it is. To give a framework let´s just say that Mumblecore is a term that was born in one of the SXWS festivals to refer to those filmmakers who were making films with absolutely no-budget and portraying mainly their own experiences and frustrations in love, sex and relationships. Mostly using their own friends and themselves as actors and portraying explicit sex scenes in a super natural acting style.
The term is interesting in the Berlin context in the no-budget, improvised ways of Papa Gold and Dicke Mädchen, but I think it shouldn´t be coined to a movement that has no relation to the original US approach.
Both Papa Gold and Dicke Mädchen are no-budget, improvised films. Dicke Mädchen had a budget of around 500 € budget (not counting Deferred contracts and materials at hand) and Tom Lass stated that the new technology, such as DSLRs, offer the possibility to make a film for next to nothing with an image quality that stands up in the big screen. Both films were made fast, having roughly 4 months from idea conception to finished film in the case of Dicke Mädchen and a half page script in the case of Papa Gold. Both films have run in festivals like Slam Dance, Cinequest and the Achtung Berlin Film Award collecting a row of prizes and opening doors for the filmmakers in the way.
Both films struggle in finding a distributor that would trust the projects to bring them to theaters and then the theme of the Verleihförderung (Distribution funding) was on table. Distributors won´t trust projects that have no TV stations or official state funding involved. And funding institutions will not give distribution funds to productions that were not funded by them in the production phase. So it´s all a never ending story and the German audience as well as producers are apparently used to the whole classic state film funding scheme which even official film schools encourage and prepare their alumni for, in some times spoiling them to pursue a scheme that is reserved for a few lucky ones.
That´s why filmmakers like Lass and Ranisch should be applauded for having the guts to go out and take the risks of taking their own careers and future in their own hands. It doesn´t mean it´s easier, but it´s more probable to get out there and have something to show than waiting for a TV station to notice you or show interest in your project. It also doesn´t mean that all films should be made like this, it´s just another option, a viable and valid one.