Alexander and Manuel Bickenbach • Producers, Frisbeefilms
Coming Full Circle
Brothers Alexander and Manuel Bickenbach might not have come to make careers as producers in the film industry if it hadn’t been for their parents. “They often took us to museums, theaters, the opera and showed us films if they thought a film was outstanding,” recalls Alexander. “These were the first steps into the world of cinema, which combines all art forms.”
Working in the media business had been the brothers’ career goal after finishing school: Alexander had originally studied Business in Trier, while Manuel – who is three years younger than Alexander – first studied Business Administration with a focus on international marketing in London.
After working for such diverse companies as Viva 2, Magic Media Company and Fremantle Germany, Alexander began studies in Production at the Baden-Wuerttemberg Film Academy in Ludwigsburg from 2000, graduating in 2005 with fellow student Florian Schwarz's feature film and First Steps winner Let The Cat Out Of The Bag, which also won several national and international prizes.
“Studying in London really helped to widen my horizon as I lived with so many different cultures side by side in this high speed city,” says Manuel, who came to Berlin after his time in the UK, working for distributor X Verleih and the production company Zeal Pictures before applying for the Production class in Ludwigsburg.
During his studies he produced the animation short My Date From Hell, which had its premiere in Cannes as part of the Next Generation program, and completed his studies in 2006 with the production of Toke Constantin Hebbeln's Nevermore, which went on to win the Student Academy Award in 2007.
The brothers had already founded Frisbeefilms in 2005 to produce Let The Cat Out Of The Bag with the Film Academy and broadcasters Hessischer Rundfunk and ARTE, but the company in its present form was established at the beginning of 2006.
“My brother and I have the same taste so we don't have to spend too much time discussing,” Manuel explains. “We like the same kind of films and directors. The division of labor depends on the particular talents and who has worked with whom the longest. We keep each other informed about the different projects, so we both have an overview of the artistic and financial aspects of each project.”
In fact, they have become aware of most new interesting talents at festivals. “When Florian Schwarz's film was showing in the Berlinale's Perspectives section in 2005, he told me to go to see the short Blackout there by Maximilian Erlenwein and we met with Max and said we would like to work with him,” Alexander recalls. “The result was the First Steps winner Gravity [+see also:
film profile] which will open in the German cinemas this March.”
“The connection with Ludwig & Glaser [directors of 66/67] goes back even further,” Manuel adds. “Their extraordinary film Detroit showed at the film festival in Munich before we’d made Let The Cat Out The Bag and that drew our attention to their lead actor Christoph Bach, who we then cast for the lead in our film.”
“We are looking to work with our directors on projects which would also draw us into the cinema,” Manuel says. “We want to preserve this young rebellious energy of our first films, and the German TV departments for debuts and the German funding system have been the perfect partners for this. We see ourselves as standing for films that are edgy and looking for new avenues, new narrative forms and a different kind of dramaturgy. At the same time, we are also thinking of tackling more popular subjects and taking that second step from arthouse to a larger audience.”
The next project set to go into production will be Marc Bauder's fiction feature debut Das System, which Frisbeefilms will shoot this spring. This should be followed later in 2010 by Toke Constantin Hebbeln's feature debut Niemandsland – an epic love story set in the two Germanies around the time of the fall of the Wall – which will be produced with UFA Cinema and distributed theatrically in Germany by Universal Pictures.
While the focus of the company is currently on Germany, the Bickenbach brothers are open to cooperation with international partners when it makes sense for a project. “We are looking for something unique in each project, furthermore we try to find the respective market – i.e. arthouse/festival market, TV market, or the commercial cinema market,” Alexander suggests.
International financing would seem to be a possibility for the next project by Florian Schwarz written by Michael Proehl, an international book adaptation of A.L. Kennedy's novel Original Bliss.
Moreover, new feature projects are in development with outstanding talents, so Manuel and Alexander have plenty to keep them busy.
All that remains is to ask how they came to decide on the name Frisbeefilms for their company which now has a presence in Berlin and will open a new office in Cologne soon.
“We always liked playing Frisbee together as kids,” Manuel explains. “For us, the name is symbolic of a lightness, a team game and dynamism reflected in our company. A powerful start, a safe flight and a perfect landing!”
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