German Distributors Look Ahead to Busy Year as Pipeline Clogged With Pics

German cinema looks set for a major boost this year from some of the country’s most commercially successful and critically acclaimed directors tackling such eclectic subject matter as U.S. torture in Guantánamo, the impact of bipolar disorder on family, and a folkloric love story about the Grim Reaper.

The pandemic postponed a number of scheduled 2020 productions, which will likely make 2021 a busy year as production companies make up lost time.

Andreas Dresen, Til Schweiger, Michael Bully Herbig, Hans-Christian Schmid, Sönke Wortmann and the late Joseph Vilsmaier all have high-profile projects in the works or set to hit theaters (when they reopen) this year.

Dresen explores the injustice of America’s war on terror in the tentatively titled “Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush.” Dresen, who enjoyed a major hit with the award-winning 2018 biopic “Gundermann,” reteamed with writer Laila Stieler on the fact-based pic about Rabiye Kurnaz (Meltem Kaptan), a Turkish housewife in Bremen, who embarks on a campaign to free her innocent son Murat from U.S. captivity in Guantánamo, Cuba. Described as a “political thriller, comedy, legal and family drama in one,” the film follows Kurnaz and human-rights attorney Bernhard Docke, played by Alexander Scheer (“Gundermann”), as they take their fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Pandora Film Produktion, Dresen’s Iskremas, Cinema Defacto and ARD are co-producing, with Pandora Film Verleih distributing in Germany and The Match Factory handling world sales.

Schweiger recently wrapped work on “Die Rettung der uns bekannten Welt,” which he directed from a screenplay co-written with Lo Malinke. The Warner Bros. release centers on a father (Schweiger) and his troubled 17-year-old son, played by Emilio Sakraya (“Tribes of Europa”), who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Schweiger is also set to direct and star in another family drama this year, “Kurt,” based on the novel by popular writer and TV personality Sarah Kuttner. The film, likewise a Warner release, revolves around a patchwork family dealing with the death of a child.

Herbig, meanwhile, is next directing UFA Fiction and Warner Bros.’ tentatively titled media satire “1000 Zeilen” (“1000 Lines”), starring “Deutschland 89” lead Jonas Nay and Elyas M’Barek of “Fack ju Göhte” fame. Inspired by Juan Moreno’s book “Tausend Zeilen Lüge” (“A Thousand Lines of Lies”), about disgraced Der Spiegel journalist Claas Relotius, “1000 Zeilen” follows a freelance journalist who discovers that the award-winning star reporter of a major German magazine has been fabricating news stories and interviews, triggering a massive media scandal.

Hermann Florin, who wrote “1000 Zeilen” and is also producing via his Feine Filme shingle, describes the film as “an unbelievable story about a fraudster” and “a great set-up” for a deliciously amusing media satire full of gripping twists and turns that also explores the modern reality of politics and media. The pic is set to shoot this summer in Munich, Berlin, Hamburg and Spain.

Herbig also stars in Vilsmaier’s final film, “Boandlkramer’s Eternal Love,” a sequel to the filmmaker’s 2008 “The Story of Brandner Kaspar,” in which Herbig first played the role of the folkloric Boandlkramer, the Bavarian-Austrian version of Death. Produced by Perathon Medien in co-production with HerbX film and Leonine, the pic sees Boandlkramer falling in love for the first time in millennia, a predicament that leads to a deal with the Devil (Hape Kerkeling), only for chaos to ensue. Herbig also co-wrote the film with Marcus H. Rosenmüller and Ulrich Limmer.

Vilsmaier, whose credits include the 1997 classic “Comedian Harmonists,” died at the age of 81 on Feb. 11, 2020, after completing the film.

The real-life 1996 kidnapping of prominent scholar and philanthropist Jan Philipp Reemtsmas is the focus of “Wir sind dann wohl die Angehörigen” by Hans-Christian Schmid (“Requiem”). The story is based on the 2018 autobiographical book by Reemtsmas’ son, Johann Scheerer, and told through the eyes of the then-13-year-old boy. Produced by Schmid’s Berlin-based 23/5 Filmproduktion, the film is set to shoot in Hamburg and North Rhine-Westphalia.

Wortmann, whose works include such hits as “The Miracle of Bern” and “Germany: A Summer’s Fairytale,” is set to direct “Eingeschlossene Gesellschaft” for Bantry Bay. The pic follows a desperate father who tries to force his son’s schoolteachers at gunpoint to reconsider a decision they made that will affect the boy’s scholastic career. Based on an audio play by Jan Weiler, the film stars Florian David Fitz (“The Perfect Secret”) and Anke Engelke (“The Last Word”).

Wortmann’s last feature, Constantin Film’s “Contra,” is set to hit theaters this fall. A remake of French hit “Le Brio,” the pic follows a xenophobic professor who is forced to coach an Arab-German student for a nationwide debate competition.

Other high-profile films in the works include the Roland Emmerich-produced “The Magic Flute,” a modern English-language retelling of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s popular opera directed by Florian Sigl. The Tobis Film release is shooting at Bavaria Studios in Munich.

Berlin-based filmmaker Christian Alvart, meanwhile, is preparing to shoot “Django Lives” in Spain next winter, with Franco Nero returning to his iconic role. The pic is a U.S.-German co-production between Fastdraw Film, Jake Seal’s Orwo Studios and Alvart’s Syrreal Entertainment.

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