Komplizen Film Trio on Elevating Female Directors and Hollywood's 'Toni Erdmann' Remake

Gene Glover
Janine Jackowski, Maren Ade and Jonas Dornbach

Maren Ade, Janine Jackowski and Jonas Dornbach discuss taking Cannes by storm and missing out on that Oscar.

From their tiny offices in Berlin’s grungy but hip Kreuzberg district, Komplizen Film — producer-director Maren Ade, 40, and producers Janine Jackowski, 40, and Jonas Dornbach, 39 — have quietly carved out a niche in the global art house circuit, producing groundbreaking international cinema —from Miguel Gomes’ three-part Portuguese fantasy epic Arabian Nights to Sebastian Lelio’s Chilean transgender drama A Fantastic Woman, that somehow manage to be both critically acclaimed and commercially successful.

A year after taking Cannes, and then the world, by storm with Ade's Toni Erdmann, Komplizen returns in style, with a film in Un Certain Regard — Valeska Grisebach’s Western — and Ade on the competition jury. Ahead of Cannes, the trio sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to talk about a whirlwind year that launched them from obscurity to the Oscars, the challenges facing avant-garde cinema and the news of a Toni Erdmann remake.

Can you remember what it felt like a year ago when you premiered Toni Erdmann in Cannes?

MAREN ADE The premiere was incredible. I was editing the film right up till the end, and I still doubted it was really finished. I was making notes during the premiere about things to change. Then there was this incredible, long applause at the end. Looking back, I wish I could have saved the moment. Right after I was locked in a room doing interviews, four to five hours a day. I’m so happy this year to go to Cannes where I can actually watch films. Last year, everything went by in a flash.

JANINE JACKOWSKI We know a bit better what to expect this year in Cannes, but it’s still the same mix of joy, excitement and a bit of fear. We learned a huge amount last year and are starting to reposition ourselves and the company.

Were you disappointed you didn’t win the foreign-language Oscar?

JACKOWSKI Not so much, because we sort of expected it. I was outside the U.S. when Trump’s travel ban was imposed, and two hours later I talked to Maren and we both said, “It’s gone.” We knew the Academy would want to send a signal with the Iranian film [Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman, which won]. Up to that point, Toni Erdmann was one of the favorites.

JONAS DORNBACH But that meant we were relatively relaxed going into the Oscars. We thought, “Let’s just enjoy the party.” And then it was one of the weirdest Oscars of all time.

Will there be a Hollywood remake of Toni Erdmann?

JACKOWSKI We’ve completed the deal with Paramount — they have the option for a remake. UTA negotiated the deal for us. So now it’s up to Paramount.

ADE But we aren’t creatively involved.

JACKOWSKI We are excited to see what they make of it. We have the option to be executive producers on the remake, but that’s it.

How do you divide up the work between the three of you?

DORNBACH Maren is very involved in the development of the projects — in the writing, the creation of the story. When it comes to the financing and producing, that’s Janine and I, through to the shooting. Then when the film is in the editing room, Maren gets involved again, because that’s her real strength. But all the really important decisions on every film we make together.

You produce a lot of films from female directors. Is that deliberate?

ADE We don’t have any agenda — we’re just interested in the material these women have written. We don’t check the gender of the director. But I think the film industry has a problem with underrepresentation of women. I used to think the whole issue of a quota — for public financing of female directors — was annoying. I didn’t want to hear about it

But then, this year with Toni Erdmann, the more successful the film became, the more lonely I was. At the Oscars, mine was the only fiction film nominated, in all the categories, that was directed by a woman. We won so many prizes where it was the first time ever a woman won. It’s 2017!

This story first appeared in the May 22 Cannes daily issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.