Movies are big business and the German film industry is increasingly drawn to the lucrative North American market. That's why more German filmmakers are heading to the Toronto Film Festival than the Venice Biennale.
Art is presented in Venice and business is done in Toronto, as the film industry saying goes.
The Biennale in Italy can look back on a long tradition and is considered one of the oldest events of its kind in the world. Toronto, on the other hand, has in the past few years established itself as a serious competitor. The Canadian event starts a few days after Venice, but has started attracting just as many prominent directors and producers.
It's not a coincidence, then, that the new festival director in Venice, Alberto Barbera, just announced again that he wants to establish the city as a strong market where films and licenses are bought and sold. Cinema is, after all, big business.
At the Venice Biennale, which runs this year from August 29 through September 8, two German-language co-productions are in the running for the Golden Lions. Austrian director Ulrich Seidl is presenting his new film "PARADIES: Glaube" (Paradise: Faith), which tells the story of a Catholic woman who tries to convert the people around her.
When her husband, a Muslim Egyptian, returns home, their family feud over marriage and religion begins. "'PARADIES: Glaube' is a cinematic pieta that tells of the different stations of the cross in a marriage and of the longing for love," said Seidl.
"Passion," by Hollywood director Brian de Palma, was made with the help of German funding. The remake of a French thriller is about two women who fight for power in the world of international business. The picture was filmed completely in Berlin, both in the city and in the Babelsberg Studios, and features German actors such as Karoline Herfurth and Rainer Bock.
It's the side events at the Biennale, however, which are most interesting. "Du hast es versprochen" (You promised it), the debut work of young Berlin director Alexandra Schmidt, can be seen at a midnight screening. It's the only all-German production this year.
"Du hast es versprochen" tells the story of two friends who see each other again after many years, but their meeting turns into a nightmare. Schmidt's debut thriller is well suited to a late-night showing.
The highly awaited film "Wadjda" by director Haifaa Al-Mansour was made in part with German funding. It's the first feature film to have been shot in Saudia Arabia - and by a woman. The movie was co-produced by Razor Film in Berlin, which has made a name for itself in recent years with films dealing with the Middle East, such as "Waltz with Bashir."
"Wadjda" is about an 11-year-old girl in the Saudi Arabian capital Riad who wants to fulfill a life dream: getting a bicycle. In the strict Muslim country, women are not allowed to ride bicycles. The film is likely to generate discussion in Saudi Arabia, even though it won't be shown in cinemas there.
The banality of evil
At the Toronto Film Festival, which takes place from September 6 to 16, 29 of the films shown were made with German involvement. The most well-known directors represented include Margarethe von Trotta and Tom Tykwer. Von Trotta's latest film, "Hannah Arendt," is about four significant years in the life of the German-Jewish philosopher.
During this time, Hannah Arendt, played by Barbara Sukowa, reported on the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann for the American magazine "The New Yorker." This experience had a major impact on Arendt and led her to coin the famous phrase "banality of evil."
Tom Tykwer co-directed his latest film, "Cloud Atlas," together with Lana and Andy Wachowski, the makers of the legendary Matrix trilogy. Based on a novel by American author David Mitchell, "Cloud Atlas" was largely filmed in Germany and, with an estimated budget of $100 million, is the most expensive German film ever made.
The film has a star-studded cast, including Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, and tells half a dozen stories at once, which take place over a period of 1,000 years. "Cloud Atlas" is a mix of fantasy and melodrama, science fiction and history.
It's not surprising that the makers of the film chose Toronto for its world premiere, since it's targeted at the North American audience, where revenue potential is the highest. A film with such a huge budget can be better marketed in Toronto rather than in quiet Venice.