German soccer pic aligned its stars

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COLOGNE, Germany -- GOOOOOOAL!!! Soenke Wortmann's soccer documentary "Germany. A Summer Fairytale" makes most Germans reach for their jersey and face paint.

Essentially a home movie of Germany's national squad on its way to third place at the World Cup soccer finals this past summer, "Fairytale" has racked up nearly 4 million admissions -- more than "King Kong" or "The Chronicles of Narnia" -- in Germany.

Wortmann's film has little international appeal -- English or Italian fans are unlikely to line up to see German locker-room antics -- but it illustrates a point: It wasn't soccer that sold "Fairytale," it was stars.

"From the start we decided to promote the film like a blockbuster, using the players as the stars," says Georg Miros, marketing head at "Fairytale" distributor Kinowelt. "If we focused just on the sport, it would have been of very narrow appeal."

It may seem second nature that stars sell tickets, but it is a notion that has only just started to catch on here.

Many in the German industry still suffer from the notion that the director is the star and actors are mere window dressing. It is a hangover from the 1970s and the anti-Hollywood, anti-star cinema of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog.

Those directors might have made great films, but they didn't find an audience beyond the art house.

Nowadays, German directors are embracing the star system, playing up the glamour and glitz and -- surprise, surprise -- selling more tickets.

They are taking their cue from German television, which has long seen the value of name recognition in pulling in the pundits.

Two of this year's biggest local-language hits -- the fairy-tale spoof "7 Dwarves 2" and the Stasi drama "The Lives of Others" -- feature stars who made their names on the small screen.

Even the art house crowd is getting starstruck.

Director Oskar Roehler, seen by many as Fassbinder's heir, front-loaded his latest film, "The Elementary Particles," with a full red-carpet contingent of stars: Moritz Bleibtreu, Franke Potente, Martina Gedeck, Christian Ulmen and Nina Hoss.

Sebastian Schipper's modest drama "A Friend of Mine" jumped into the top 10 on its first weekend thanks to headliners Daniel Bruehl and Juergen Vogel.

The stars staged a glamour marathon to promote the film, attending as many as six premieres a day at cities across the country.

Germany is still a long way from France or the U.K., where local celebs get mobbed at the supermarket and the tabloids dig up their darkest secrets. But if "Fairytale" is any indication, German audiences are hungry for homegrown stars.
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