German film fund's first year a success


BERLIN -- The newly instituted German Federal Film Fund (DFFF), a subsidy that allows producers to pocket up to 20% of the funds they spend in Germany, has ended its first year as an unqualified success -- and managed to scrape its budgetary ceiling of 60 million euros ($88.3 million) without letting a project go without funding.

The 99 projects submitted for 2007, among them Bryan Singer's "Valkyrie," the Wachowski siblings' "Speed Racer" and Tom Tykwer's "The International," profited from the new funding scheme, with the German film business going along for the ride -- up to a point where it was practically impossible to find a qualified gaffer or costumer in or around Berlin.

Not that the DFFF is spared from criticism: The mandatory German distribution contract was attacked as an unnecessary hurdle, but according to Christine Berg, who administers the DFFF under the auspices of the German Federal Film Board, criticism of this particular requirement started out strong and quickly subsided once the funding got under way.

Berg also is quick to point out that the German film industry and its media professionals deserve the lion's share of the credit for the scheme's success.

"We're just a piece of the puzzle," she said, adding that the creative potential in Germany and Berlin's ranking as a cultural metropolis certainly provided strong incentives for producers to set up their catering tents in and around Studio Babelsberg -- the main recipient of the new largesse.

As for the fund's monetary ceiling, which came pretty close to being pierced, Berg is not worried -- the U.S. writers strike made it pretty much impossible to lure big American productions into Germany for the first half of the year, with the second part of 2008 still being threatened by a possible actors strike and other intangibles like the weak U.S. dollar.

Fortunately, the German film business is going strong without big Hollywood productions setting up shop: with the literary adaptation "Desert Flower," Sonke Wortmann's "Pope Joan" and the kid's movie "Robbi, Tobbi und das Fliwatuut" in the pipeline, German set designers, cameramen and gaffers might not go hungry for a while to come.