China learns German for Focus

Film showcase enters 12th year at Shanghai fest

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SHANGHAI -- Teutons took the spotlight in China on Monday, where Kai Wessel's biopic "Hilde," of bold German chanteuse Hildegard Knef, had its international premiere to open the German Focus of 14 films and 10 shorts at the Shanghai International Film Festival.

China's largest film festival outside of Hong Kong also had in competition from Germany director Christoph Röhl's "A Piece of Me," about a teen who becomes a man upon having an unexpected child.

China's interest in German film has risen in recent months with the wide release of Florian Gallenberger's Sino-German co-production "John Rabe," made with Beijing-based Huayi Brothers Pictures. The film about the German businessman who saved thousands of Chinese from the invading Japanese in Nanjing in 1937, was named Best Film at the German Film Awards in April.

To build on the interest, Mariette Rissenbeck, German Films director for the last seven years, brought the largest delegation ever to the festival, including the sales companies Telepool and Match Factory, production companies Riva Films and 27 Films and 10 directors including Wessel, Röhl and directors from Argentina and Japan who made films in Germany.

German Films each year submits 30 to 40 films to SIFF organizers, giving them titles that have done well commercially or critically back home. The festival then chooses about a dozen titles to screen.

"We're really pleased with the variety this year," said Rissenbeck, on her fifth trip to the Shanghai festival, now in its 12th year.

Director Röhl, who is half-English, said he couldn't have made the film he co-wrote with Philippe Longchamps without the help of German broadcaster ZDF and German Films.

The film, which he shot on super-16, got 350,000 euros ($486,000) of its budget from ZDF, which Röhl then doubled with subsidies from German Films. After deferrals, the film's total budget was 850,000 euros ($1.2 million). After working on it for five years, he finally shot it over 26 days.

"It would have been impossible to make my film with that budget back in the U.K.," said Berlin-based Röhl.

Earlier this year, "A Piece of Me" won the DEFA Foundation award at the Max Ophüls Festival, and its lead, Ludwig Trepte, won the best newcomer actor award at the Schwerin Art of Film Festival.

The Shanghai International Film Festival ends June 21.
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