Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky must have been the right man for The Counterfeiters, a drama about a Nazi-organised forgery scam in a German concentration camp - he was independently approached by two production companies for the same project within the space of three weeks.

With a resume including two successful horror thrillers Anatomy and Anatomy 2, comedy All The Queen's Men and festival favourite The Inheritors, "it was immediately clear that Stefan would be right for the story", says the film's German producer, Nina Bohlmann of Magnolia Filmproduktion.

"We sent him the book The Devil's Workshop by Adolf Burger [who is played by August Diehl in the film] and he found the story as gripping as we did."

By coincidence, Austrian producer Josef Aichholzer had also approached Ruzowitzky with a similar idea - to make a film about the Nazi scam, code-named Operation Bernhard, at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp which produced millions of counterfeit Bank of England notes to wreck the British economy.

"It must have been an act of fate that two companies came to me independently of one another within three weeks," Ruzowitzky says. "Both of them are small production houses and were therefore happy to unexpectedly have a co-producer partner in another country and set up 50:50 financing between Germany and Austria."

The $5.4m production, which was co-produced by Babelsberg Film, Studio Babelsberg Motion Pictures and broadcasters ZDF and ORF, shot last spring in Vienna and the Cote d'Azur, with concentration camp interiors recreated on soundstages at the Babelsberg Studios near Berlin.

Ruzowitzky was not concerned about the new direction he was taking with The Counterfeiters: "I have certain themes that I'm always looking for. A story is interesting for me if I can find them," he explains. "I like to focus on idealism and pragmatism and always have young idealistic heroes who enter into a new world and want to do everything differently, but then get a real hiding in the process."

The aim, says Ruzowitzky is to deliver "authenticity and immediacy, rather than historical truth.

"I want the story to be so immediate for the audience that they have the feeling they are there the whole time," he adds. "Thus, most of the scenes are from over the shoulder of the lead actor (Karl Markovics). We shot everything with the handheld camera clinging to the lead actor, seeing everything as he sees it, and even being there when he gets beaten up."

The Counterfeiters had its world premiere in Berlin, now Ruzowitzky is preparing $11.6m family film Lily The Witch (Hexe Lilli), to be produced by Munich-based Blue Eyes Fiction with animation studio Trixter Film.

The Counterfeiters

The true story of a Nazi banknote counterfeiting scam at the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.

Budget: $5.4m.

Producers: Nina Bohlmann, Babette Schroeder, Josef Aichholzer.

Sales agent: Beta Cinema.

Key cast: Karl Markovics, August Diehl, Devid Striesow, August Zirner, Marie Baumer, Martin Brambach.