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INDUSTRY / MARKET Germany

Building an audience for historical films takes centre stage in Lübeck

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- The industry panel, held on 6 November during the Lübeck Nordic Film Days, focused on how to make historical subjects topical and relevant for today's audiences

Building an audience for historical films takes centre stage in Lübeck
Laurin Dietrich moderating the panel with Christina Rosendahl and Jonas Frederiksen

How can producers and distributors attract audiences to a film dealing with historical themes? What are the best practices to release a period film given the current pandemic restrictions? How can we make historical subjects topical and relevant for today's spectators? These are some of the questions tackled by one of the industry panels organised by the Lübeck Nordic Film Days, held on 6 November. The 62nd edition of the German gathering, initially set to be a hybrid event, was forced to go fully virtual owing to the worrying increase in coronavirus cases and ran from 4-8 November.

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The conversation, titled “Bringing the Past to the Future. Audience Building for Historical Films in Unprecedented Times,” took place against the background of the 100th anniversary of the reunification of Southern Jutland with Denmark and 100 years of Danish-German friendship. It saw the participation of players from both countries, who shared examples from current and upcoming releases and offered their takes on building an audience for historical films. The speakers were Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein's managing director Helge Albers, director Christina Rosendahl, Nimbus Film's producer Jonas Frederiksen, Tamtam Film's producer and distributor Dirk Decker, and marketing and distribution representative Henriette Ahrens. The panel was opened and moderated by Laurin Dietrich.

After a short contribution made by Albers, the floor was given to Decker and Ahrens, who presented the first case study, namely their campaign for the recent German release of Kasper Torsting's A War Within. Decker explained that the film was a German-Danish-Czech co-production set during WWI and addressed a theme that played a crucial role for the project's marketing and distribution, namely the historical facts behind Southern Denmark's annexation, which forced 30,000 young soldiers to fight for the German Reich. Decker was thankful for the strong support received by international partners, outfits and inhabitants. The initial plan was to release the film in Denmark on 10 November 2018, namely the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI. “Luckily, we managed to release it on time, despite the tight schedule. We recorded 45,000 admissions in Southern Denmark, and the film became one of the most successful titles released in the region,” he said. For the German release, the team preferred to wait for a few good festival selections and plan a proper distribution in 2020, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the border between Germany and Denmark. Later, Ahrens explained in further detail how they worked on intercepting the desired German-Danish target groups by adopting a flexible strategy and by doing extensive preparatory work. The pandemic disrupted several of their plans, such as the idea to organise a premiere on the German-Danish border.

The second case study centred on The Good Traitor [+see also:
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. Frederiksen explained that the team had been working in two directions; namely, a rather conventional campaign dedicated to intercepting the right “appetite” among viewers, alongside the will to make a special project capable of promoting “cultural values.” Moreover, extensive work was done in terms of advertising the film in the local media, which “may be a struggle, since these need a local angle” but nonetheless proved successful. Finally, Rosendahl pointed out the importance of the story of Henrik Kauffmann, portrayed in her film, and how it has gained a special teaching value in today's context, as it may inspire resilience and relieve viewers in these difficult times. Along with the local press, the director said that their second main target were the local cinema owners, especially the smallest, who felt left behind during this crisis and were willing to engage community viewers again. The panel was closed by a short Q&A session and Dietrich's closing remarks.

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