The Northern Ireland 'Troubles' of the 1970s are a long way from Oliver Hirschbiegel's hugely successful drama Downfall about the last days of Adolf Hitler, but the German director sees many similarities.

'I've always been interested in the human condition and how this brings forth extreme confrontation,' he explains.

Hirschbiegel came to the Belfast-set drama Five Minutes Of Heaven, which has its world premiere in Sundance's World Cinema Dramatic competition this week, as he was prepping the feature project Boy Soldiers with screenwriter Guy Hibbert, whose projects include the acclaimed TV film, Omagh.

'That project had fallen apart twice when Guy slipped (the script of Five Minutes Of Heaven) under my door. I just loved it. I knew straightaway this one had my name on it,' he recalls.

James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson star in what the director describes as 'a chamber-style Western'.

It begins in familiar Hirschbiegel territory, a dramatic reconstruction of true events with the murder of a 19-year old Catholic man in 1975 by a 17-year-old Ulster Volunteer Force member. It then switches to the present day and a fictional encounter between the murderer and the victim's brother, who had witnessed the killing.

'The film stands for what is going on in the world today,' says Hirschbiegel of the English-language picture. 'The confrontation between the Islamic and Western capitalist worlds, and two different cultures backing two sets of values, makes it universal.

'It was the most wonderful experience I've ever had on a film. Shooting in 26 days was tough and there was not a lot of money, but it's a highly political film about something that really matters.'

Pathe is handling international rights to the film, which was originally commissioned by BBC Drama Northern Ireland as a one-off film for BBC 2. It was produced by Big Fish Films in association with Ruby Films.

After Sundance, 2009 could see Hirschbiegel working back- to-back on two films, including the long-gestating Boy Soldiers - if the financing is back in place - in the second half of the year.

But first up will be Mafia thriller Angel Face, produced by Germany's Fanes Film. It is shooting this spring at locations in the Ruhr in Germany as well as Calabria and Florence in Italy.

Based on the bestselling book by Der Spiegel news magazine writer Andreas Ulrich, it charts the true story of German mafia hitman Giorgio Basile, who became a witness on his arrest in 1998 and has since put more than 50 Mafiosi behind bars with his testimonies.

Angel Face will reunite Hirschbiegel with actor Moritz Bleibtreu who headlined his 2001 award-winning psychodrama The Experiment. 'Moritz will look quite different from what we're used to because Basile had a chubby face and didn't look at all like a killer. He was someone with who you would happily entrust your child,' Hirschbiegel says.

Telepool is handling international sales for Angel Face, which will be the first German film to be released by Disney under the Miramax label in German cinemas in early 2010.