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Sonia Otto, Arek Gielnik and Dietmar Ratsch • Producers, Indi Film

“We have created a special niche for ourselves in the German documentary landscape”


- German Films interviewed Sonia Otto, Arek Gielnik and Dietmar Ratsch of Indi Film to know more about their approach to cinema

Sonia Otto, Arek Gielnik and Dietmar Ratsch • Producers, Indi Film

Arek Gielnik and Dietmar Ratsch first met and started working together over 20 years ago when Gielnik was studying Audiovisual Media at the Stuttgart Media University (HBM) and Ratsch following the course of Documentary Direction at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg in Ludwigsburg. In July 2001, the two decided to set up their joint production company Indi Film in Ludwigsburg. This was followed by a branch office in Berlin in 2003 where Ratsch is now based along with producer Sonia Otto, who studied Cultural Studies at the Humboldt University in Berlin and Audiovisual Communication at the Universidad de Sevilla. The company’s main office is now located in Stuttgart since 2011.

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“We see ourselves as having created a special niche for ourselves in the German documentary landscape,” Ratsch explains. “Our documentaries have an observational style and are structured dramaturgically in such a way that they meet the demands for a feature-length film.” 

Looking back over the last 16 years of producing documentaries, Gielnik suggests that there are certain common threads running through the films they have worked on. “If you take films like Afghans Don’t Flirt, Land in Sight, Neukölln Unlimited or Bastion of Sin, they all focus on how different cultures are able to live together whether it be in Germany or in other countries, how we can live together with different perspectives on life,” he says. “That has always moved us and continues to do so.” 

“We have also been interested in making political films in the widest sense of the word,” Sonia Otto adds, pointing to David Bernet’s Democracy [+see also:
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interview: David Bernet
film profile
about the political fight for a new data protection law in the EU or currently Evelyn SchelsBody of Truth accompanying the internationally famous artists Marina Abramovic, Sigalit Landau, Katharina Sieverding and Shirin Neshat on an emotional journey through their biographies addressing such complex topics as power, violence, and sexuality in a very human and sensual way. “Many of our films have been regularly shown by the Goethe-Institute, Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung and other educational institutes,” Ratsch notes. “It has always been important for us that our films have a political message and highlight social injustices, but do this in an accessible way.” 

From its very beginnings, Indi Film has had a particular focus on documentaries and this will continue to be the case in the future, but Gielnik, Ratsch and Otto have now also made their first foray into the domain of fiction features with films aimed at young audiences. “The decision to also make films for children and young people has something to do with our own personal developments,” Gielnik explains. “We were both in our early thirties when we set up the company and have since had families.” 

After producing its first feature, Habib Rhapsody [+see also:
film profile
by Michael Baumann, Indi Film’s second feature, Nelly’s Adventure by Dominik Wessely, was in development for 7-8 years. The company is now preparing its second project for young audiences, Lucy Goes Gangsta, to be directed by Till Endemann who has co-written the screenplay with Andreas Cordes. “We had some very positive feedback from foreign producers,” Gielnik recalls. “The story isn’t seen as being typically German and has more of an international appeal because we are looking at universal truths, at good and bad from a child’s perspective.”

In fact, co-production has become an increasingly important element of Indi Film’s work with the company either serving as a minority co-producer on third party projects or attracting partners for its own productions. “We started the classic way, working on our own German-based productions, but then the success of a film like Neukölln Unlimited with its Crystal Bear at the Berlinale got us known outside of Germany,” Otto says. Since then, Indi Film has looked beyond Germany’s borders to scout for interesting projects and like-minded partners such as France’s Seppia, Poland’s Centrala Film, Austria’s Mischief Films, and Switzerland’s Mons Veneris Films or DokLab.

After the success of Democracy, Indi Film is working again with David Bernet on the development of his new documentary project Solidarity, a film about the multifaceted present and the secret of solidarity. While embarking on new collaborations with other members of its “film family” such as Michael Baumann, Dominik Wessely, and Jens Becker, the company is also has two projects in development with Polish partner Centrala: Kuba Czekaj’s genre mix Lipstick on the Glass, and Tomasz Emil Rudzik’s tragicomedy Black Madonna. “These projects mark a new chapter in our company’s development with larger arthouse crossover projects. We now want to move out of that low-budget bracket of under 2 million euros to higher budgets with greater commercial potential in the future,” Gielnik concludes.

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