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Guido Schwab and Marcel Lenz • Producers, Ostlicht Filmproduktion

Eastern Glow

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Guido Schwab and Marcel Lenz • Producers, Ostlicht Filmproduktion

“The choice of the name Ostlicht was supposed to be a synonym for the fact that light comes from the East, with the sun rising from there every day,” says co-founder Guido Schwab about the Weimar-based company’s name. “Admittedly, one might have thought that the name had something to do with a focus on Eastern Europe,” partner Marcel Lenz adds, since Ostlicht has been involved to date in three international co-productions with East European filmmakers. “It just happened that it was these projects we boarded because there isn’t any specific focus on the East European region.”

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However, from the outset, Ostlicht has been particularly interested in working with filmmakers on their feature debuts, beginning in 2006 with Hagen Keller’s Meer is nich which was released by Kinowelt in German cinemas in 2008.

“This film was a little sensation as it introduced the director and our company to a wider public,” Lenz recalls. “It was premiered in Hof in 2007 and then won a Bavarian Film Prize for Best Newcomer Actor for Elinor Lüdde in 2008 as well as picking up the Young Lion Award at the second edition of the Filmfest Hachenburg.” Meer is nich had been one of the first projects developed at Ostlicht thanks to slate funding support granted by Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung (MDM) in 2005. “That funding gave us the freedom over the period of two years to gradually build up our company,” Schwab observes.

At the same time, the Ostlicht duo has been keen to expand their network past Germany’s borders to become involved in international projects. Attending the East-West co-production market Connecting Cottbus in 2008 brought Schwab and Lenz together with the Bulgarian broth ers Viktor and Borislav Chouchkov, who were there to pitch Viktor’s feature debut Tilt.

“The fact that we came onboard Tilt is thanks to Borislav’s persistency,” Lenz recalls. “Bit by bit, they moved the project away from being just a Bulgarian film to stand as a European project which would be understood in other countries. When the film had been eliminated of purely national codes, we were happy to become a partner and develop the project further.”

“We had an extremely positive experience with what was our first international co-production,” he continues. “We have had good feedback from audiences at the festivals where the film has been shown so far.”

In fact, Ostlicht had a situation in the spring of 2009 where it was working on two international projects at the same time. The second one – Serbian filmmaker Oleg Novkovic’s White White World [+see also:
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– had come to the company’s attention via Connecting Cottbus and through Schwab’s participation in the 2008 edition of the EAVE producers’ course with the feature film project Für Elise when he met the Serbian actor-producer Uliks Fehmiu who was looking for partners for Novkovic’s film.

“Initially, it was difficult to imagine or formulate what the film would look like stylistically,” Schwab says. “It was something we were aware of during the financing: people asked if it would be a musical or something like Dancer Ih the Dark. Fortunately, we had a strong partner in MDM who could see the film’s potential and showed their confidence in us as well.”

White White World had its world premiere at last year’s Locarno Film Festival where it picked up the Leopard for Best Actress for the female lead Jasna Duricic and the CICAE Prix Art & Essai. The film was also awarded the Grand Prix for Best Film at the 20th edition of the Cottbus Film Festival and screened in Tribeca’s new sidebar Viewpoints in April of this year.

“The film was a big experiment, but our decision to take a risk has certainly paid off,” Schwab says.

In fact, participation in EAVE, one of the training programs co-financed by the European Union’s MEDIA Program, has played a crucial role in the subsequent development of Ostlicht’s activities and choice of projects. Lenz also attended EAVE last year with the project Ronny Worldwide. Indeed, it was through this producers’ network that Ostlicht became the German partner on a project by another EAVE alumnus, Macedonian actress-producer Labina Mitevska. Shooting began at the end of March and wrapped in mid-May on Teona Strugar Mitevska’s third feature The Women Who Brushed Off Her Tears which is being co-produced with the Mitevskis and Belgium’s Entre Chien et Loup and Slovenia’s Vertigo Film.

The drama focuses on two women – Helena (played by Victoria Abril) living with her husband and son in a West European city, and Aysun (Labina Mitevska) who lives with her son at her father’s home in a Macedonian mountain village – who, despite their widely varying living conditions and origins from contrasting cultures, are fighting for the same goal: self-determination.

“We have been directly involved in the development of the screenplay,” Lenz explains. “Sometimes, one has to work on screenplays so that they become more accessible to an international audience. We really are interested in cooperation rather than just giving money.” Parallel to these international projects, Ostlicht has been continuing to develop feature debuts by young German directors. Last autumn saw shooting in Jena and Weimar of Wolfgang Dinslage’s drama Für Elise based on a screenplay by Hungarian-born writer-director Erzsebet Racz. This project continued a collaboration with Racz that had seen Ostlicht producing her short The Pig, which won the Audience Award for Best Short at the ARTE Short Film Festival last year.

Selling Thuringia as a region to shoot films has become increasingly easier with time. “That has been a large part of our work and we have been pioneers in helping to develop an infrastructure in the region,” Schwab explains. “For a long time, the number of projects was not big enough for people to be based in the region all year round, but that has improved in recent years to the point where you can’t get certain people anymore because they are booked up!”

Moreover, Ostlicht has developed another string to its bow by offering to function as a service producer for outside productions coming into the region.

At the beginning of February 2010, the company handled the six days of shooting at locations around Jena for Saverio Costanzo’s The Solitude of the Prime Numbers [+see also:
trailer
interview: Luca Marinelli
film profile
]
which was produced by Italy’s Offside srl, together with Bavaria Pictures, France’s Les Films des Tournelles, and ZDF Enterprises.

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