Made in Germany

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Sherry Hormann's biopic "Desert Flower" shows how far a creative producer can stretch the concept of a "German" film. Shot in English, set in Africa, London and New York, the $16 million production secured 70% of its financing from Germany.

But Germany isn't anywhere in the script or on screen.

"Desert Flower" is the best-selling autobiography of Waris Dirie. Dirie was born in Somalia and escaped as a child across the desert to the west. In London she became a successful fashion model and then crusader against female genital mutilation in her home country. Hard to find a German hook in that to sell it to the regional funding bodies.

Producer Peter Hermann initially thought of joining with a U.S. company but soon abandoned that plan. "With no big stars in the cast (newcomer model Liya Kebede headlines), it was too expensive to be financed out of America," Hermann says. "We had to take the German route."

Cap in hand, Hermann went to Germany's film boards, picking up more than $3 million in subsidies from regional state bodies in NRW (North Rhine-Westphalia), Berlin and Bavaria and a further $850,000 from federal film board the FFA. Gap financing came from the NRW Bank, a regional body that provides loans of up to €2 million ($2.8 million) or 20% of a film's budget.

To meet local spending requirements, "Desert Flower" shot its interiors entirely in Germany -- mostly in NRW and Berlin. Hermann eschewed the top-notch facilities of Cologne's MMC or Berlin's Studio Babelsberg, instead choosing to build sets in an empty factory building and have Berlin landmarks like the House of World Cultures stand in for New York's U.N. building.

"We did the exteriors on the real locations -- Africa, New York and London, so stitching it together proved a challenge," Hermann says. "But it's seamless, you don't notice at all that it was shot in Cologne."

The production slight-of-hand was needed to tap Germany's tax fund the DFFF, which provides an upfront tax rebate equal to 20% of a film's local spend. Or about $1.7 million in the case of "Desert Flower."
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