Peter Herrmann • Producer
Striving for authenticity
- Peter Herrmann's latest production Exit Marrakech will be released later in 2013 by Studiocanal in Germany
“Studying ethnology was, in fact, good preparation for becoming a producer later on,” says Peter Herrmann, who is one of the few German producers who can say with justified pride that they produced an oscar-winning film. “When I was a student of cultural Studies, we didn’t just cover one aspect of culture like sociology or psychology, but a holistic approach to the foreign cultures,” he continues, observing that “with very few exceptions, I have always made films which are about authentic or historical events and are true stories.”
Although Herrmann didn’t follow the usual path many film producers take by attending film school for formal training, he had a first taste of the world of filmmaking during field research in West Africa during his studies. “We didn’t really have any idea of what we were doing at the time when we made some ethnographic films about rituals – and I expect some students are still having to watch our films to this day! – but I got hooked on film and then began working in documentaries after graduation.”
The second half of the 1980s/early 1990s saw Herrmann working in commercials, travelling around the globe and producing for major clients, until he joined forces with Andreas Bareiss in 1994 to set up the production outfit MTM Cineteve. His first production at MTM was Romuald Karmakar’s DeathMaker. “The film had a very small budget, but Romuald had a very clever strategy to say that it should remain a chamber piece and we would concentrate everything on this one room and never leave it,” he recalls. “The result was very successful in the cinema and also won many prizes.”
In 1994 Herrmann came to MTM as a freelance producer. “It was a great experience for me because I learned many things that I wouldn’t have otherwise,” he explains. At the same time, Herrmann began working on the development of the screen version of Stefanie Zweig’s novel Nowhere In Africa which took him seven years from the point when the book came onto the market until the end of shooting in Kenya in 2001.
“I had acquired the rights to the book very early on before it became a bestseller,” he recalls, “and then started looking for screenwriters and directors. I had worked with various authors when I finally decided on Caroline Link as director after seeing her debut Beyond Silence. That was exactly the style and way I felt the film should look.”
However, Herrmann wasn’t sure that he would be able to get the financing together for such an ambitious project – with a budget of € 7 million – for such a young director. This also changed, though, when Beyond Silence was nominated for the Best foreign Language film Academy Award and Link became a ’name’ that could then attract financing.
The rest, as they say, is history: Nowhere in Africa opened in Germany at the end of 2001 and was the biggest grossing German film of 2002, subsequently winning five awards at the German film Awards and the Academy Award for Best foreign Language film in 2003.
Africa was also the setting for Herrmann’s next project Desert Flower [+see also:
film profile]. Again, he chose a woman director – Sherry Hormann – and then spent three years with her on developing and honing the script before going before the camera. “The financing came together relatively fast even though it was a large budget,” Herrmann notes, pointing out that shooting in English threw up new unexpected challenges. “On this project, we learned the different ways of working between German and Anglo-Saxon casting directors. In Germany, we are used to casting actors and then proceeding with the final stage of financing. There’s always a close cooperation because the agents and actors know how things can change. But the agencies in the States and London want to know if you have the money and can place it in a trust account. Once that is done, everything is possible.”
His next project is Exit Marrakech, for which he reunited with Caroline Link for a second time. “Caroline has always been preoccupied with family and relationships and she decided this time to focus on a father-son relationship. There was a feeling that the film shouldn’t be set in Germany or Europe, but more in an exceptional situation, so we went off to Morocco for a two-week trip. We didn’t have any story, just the idea of a father and son on a journey together. This was also a different kind of working because we weren’t adapting an existing book. Instead, we had an original story focusing on a specific idea.”
Exit Marrakech – which stars Samuel Schneider as the son pitted against his theatre director father played by Ulrich Tukur – will be released later in 2013 by Studiocanal in Germany.
Looking ahead, Africa is not likely to feature in Herrmann’s next feature film project which he currently has in development about the life of the dancer and resistance fighter Sylvin Rubinstein. In fact, he had already visited the subject matter when he produced a documentary about Rubinstein entitled Er tanzte das Leben by Marian czura and Kuno Kruse in 2003. Kruse was also the author of a book published in 2000, Dolores & Imperio. Die drei Leben des Sylvin Rubinstein. Rubinstein was an international star in the music halls of the 30s with his twin sister as the flamenco act ’Imperio y Dolores’ until the Nazi occupation in Poland tore them apart. Then, after the war, Sylvin became a flamenco star dressed as Dolores preserving the memory of his sister who perished in the holocaust.
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