Industry Report: Directors Talk II, Berlinale World Cinema Fund Day
Pandora Film’s Raimond Goebel on Tulpan and regional film funding institutes in Germany
by Harald Olkus in cooperation with Cine Regio
- Tulpan by Kazakh director Sergej Dvortsevoy is one of the successful international art films produced by Pandora Film, a German-based independent film distribution and production company. In the interview, the joint owner of Pandora, Raimond Goebel talked about the background story of Tulpan and the important role of German regional film funding institutes for independent producers.
Pandora Film is an independent Production, Marketing and Distribution Company, based in Cologne and Frankfurt/M. Pandora won the top prize in Cannes' Un Certain Regard with Sergey Dvortsevoy's feature film debut Tulpan. The jury, led by Fatih Akin, chose the film, which is set in the filmmakers' native Kazakhstan, from 20 films in competition. In addition, Tulpan won the “Prix de la Jeunesse,” selected from all films at the Cannes Film Festival by the International Youth Jury and the "Prix de l'Education Nationale," a prize given by the Ministry of Education.
Pandora is known for highly ambitious international arthouse cinema. Cineuropa talks with Raimond Goebel, joint owner of Pandora Film, about the making of Tulpan and the role of German regional film funding institutes for independent producers.
Cineuropa: Tulpan is a film about rural people from Kazakhstan, set on location in Central Asia, made by a local director who is renowned for documentaries rather than feature films. Why did Pandora choose to produce this film?
Raimond Goebel We produced Tulpan mainly because of the personal contact between our colleague Karl Baumgartner and Sergej Dvortsevoy. They were introduced to one another by Jane Balfour at the Rotterdam Film Festival in 2000. Karl Baumgartner was immediately attracted to Dvortsevoy’s extraordinary beautiful script (co-written by Gennadi Ostrovskiy) of a rather uncomplicated romantic comedy set in a remote part of the world. It is always the uniqueness of a project, the personality of the director or the quality of a script that convinces us to produce a certain film.
Was it important for you that it was Dvorsevoy’s first feature film?
We actually prefer when filmmakers have already made a few films. A debut usually contains more risks. Dvortsevoy had made several outstanding documentaries. But there are quite a few things why such a long production period – it took from 2004 to 2007 – is unfavourable.
Why did production take such a long time?
Dvortsevoy’s high documentary standards and the fact that we had to wait for weeks to shoot the strongest scene of the film – the birth of a sheep – didn’t speed things up. Afterwards, the quality of all the other scenes had to be matched to this one. So we had to retake several scenes, which was even more difficult because the film consists of very long takes. Towards the end Dvortsevoy said: “The actors in my film should not be worse than the animals.”
Even the landscape proved to be difficult: only a few drops of water are needed to make the desert bloom. And then it takes quite a long time until it looks like before and the continuity is right.
So the shoot was rather nerve-wracking for you?
Yes, especially because at first it seemed rather straightforward – we had an uncomplicated story, a small cast and only one location. But it proved to be completely difficult. In contrast, post-production was rather efficient because we had only few cuts and long takes.
Was the long production the reason for the number of co-producers?
The circle of participants had to be enlarged as the production progressed. We had financed the film for a normal shoot. But as it took longer and longer to finish the film we had to provide new sources of financing. A German/Swiss/Russian co-production became a German/Swiss/Russian/Polish/Russian/Kazakh co-production.
And the production costs?
The film was not very expensive to produce. In the end it cost about €2.5m. Before it was under €2m. If you have a good script to offer, it is not so hard to find additional money. We had a Polish film crew and the film was good for the reputation of Kazakhstan’s film industry.
Switzerland gave approximately 22%, Poland 10%, Kazakhstan 15% and Russia 19%. ZDF/Arte and the German regional film funding institutes MDM and MfG contributed 34% of the budget.
How did you get the support of MDM (Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung) and MfG Baden-Wuerttemberg?
MDM and MfG were in it from the beginning. Under certain conditions these regional film funding institutes are willing to take part in the financing of arthouse films, even if they are not linked to their region. The main condition is, that the money has to be spent in their regions: The film was copied in Baden-Wuerttemberg and the film material came from South West Germany, too. East Germany was in it with the sound, the equipment and the logistics.
How important are the German regional film funding institutes for a production company like Pandora?
They are very important. They are valuable especially for co-productions not set in Germany. For German films with German crews you can apply to national funding institutions like the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF) or the German Federal Film Board (FFA).
Pandora exclusively produces international co-productions. This is our credo. We want to be present on more than one market. As a distributor, Pandora brought world cinema to Germany. Now as film producers we want to make exactly these types of films. This is part of our philosophy.
The regional film funding institutions
As Germany’s culture politics is federally organized, the regional film funding institutions play an important role in the country’s funding scene. Four German regional film funding institutions are members of the European Cine Regio network: Hamburg/Schleswig Holstein, Nordrhein Westfalen, Baden Wuerttemberg, and Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung.
The latter two funded Tulpan and spent a larger part of the German share. Besides artistic reasons (the good script), MDM’s was motivated to support Tulpan because of the historic contacts with Eastern European countries and their film industry.
“Like the Filmstiftung NRW, which is linked with Anglo-American countries, and the MFG, which has good contacts with France, there is a tradition in East Germany to work with Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Bosnia and Serbia”, says MDM spokesman Oliver Rittweger.
Besides the wish to establish stories from Eastern Europe in world cinema and to support the artistic exchange between Eastern and Western Europe, the MDM has economic intentions as well. They want to encourage business development, find joint markets and attract distributors or broadcasters for the funded films.
In Baden-Wuerttemberg the situation is similar. “We want to support native filmmakers and the regional film industry. The main goal is to keep our talent in the region by funding film projects”, says spokesman Uwe Rosentreter. The origin of the MfG is closely linked with the Baden-Wuerttemberg Film Academy in Ludwigsburg.
Besides producing films that are set in the region, the MfG supports films in the research and distribution phases as well. Just recently, the Arsenal Filmverleih in Tuebingen receiving funded for having brought the French film The Grocer’s Son to German cinemas.
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