International co-production and co-production markets around the globe will not be the same now following the news that the internationally respected German producer-distributor Karl Baumgartner has died at the age of 65.
Known affectionately by friends and colleagues alike as ¨Baumi¨, Baumgartner hailed from the South Tyrol, but was ¨ at home¨ in different countries and cultures, working with film-makers on projects located in some of the seemingly most inaccessible or logistically nightmarish parts of the planet.
Hearing him recount the making of Bakhtiar Khudojnazarov’s Luna Papa at one of the countless co-production panels with his tales of the shooting being stopped by floods washing the set away, the outbreak of civil war and being evacuated by the Red Cross floods, one often wondered whether he purposely looked for such challenges.
Not to speak of the challenge of putting such delicate and time-consuming co-production structures together involving tried-and-tested production partners, public funders and broadcasters from across Europe and beyond.
Once when asked why he put himself through such travails for these co-productions, he spoke of his unwavering curiosity for other countries and cultures and interest in discovering young, new talents at home in Germany as well as throughout Eastern Europe - a particular focus - and further afield.
And so it was that ¨Baumi¨ was a regular and popular guest at the co-production markets and gatherings which have sprung up over the past 20 years as a way for producers to find potential partners for their film projects. In fact, many events considered it a ¨seal of approval¨ if he could accept their invitation to attend - and, of course, recall further anecdotes about past co-productions for the obligatory panel as well as giving his view of the current state of independent production..
It was always said that the fact that Pandora’s base was originally in Frankfurt probably made it easier to jet around the world with the centre of Lufthansa’s flight network up the road.
At the same time, ¨Baumi¨ was no jet-setter even if he spent a good part of his time travelling from one production to the next - with the inevitable connections on to smaller flights to the often back and beyond settings of his films .
Inspiration for ¨Baumi’s babies¨
Rather, he was an inspiration for a whole generation of younger producers in Germany who benefitted from his generosity of spirit and curiosity about new untold stories and undiscovered talents whether they were directors, screenwriters, actors or up-and-coming producers.
Starting with Pandora, producer colleagues such as Claudia Steffen, Christoph Friedel, and Raimund Goebel - and Ernst Szebedits at another offshoot he founded, Pegasos Film - had been able to benefit over the years from his fount of knowledge and experience - and this was extended to Michael Weber and his team when ¨Baumi¨ and Brundig became partners in the sales agent The Match Factory which Weber has built up into one of the leading players in the international independent sales and production scene.
But as the author observed at numerous editions of such gatherings as Connecting Cottbus and Sofia Meetings, Baumgartner had spawned a wave of so-called ¨Baumi’s babies¨ who also had the curiosity about other cultures and countries and the desire to take risks: Razor Film, Rohfilm, Flying Moon, Detailfilm, Ostlicht, Unafilm, Riva Film, One Two Films, and Neue Mediopolis are just some of the names that come to mind of German production companies who were doubtless inspired and encouraged in no small part by ¨Baumi¨’s example.
Indeed, when Dieter Kosslick came up with the idea of the World Cinema Fund (WCF), one wag suggested that it should be re-named ¨The Baumi Fund¨ because the fund’s profile seemed to perfectly fit the kind of films which Pandora had been making and aspired to make.
It was no wonder then that Pandora Film and its sister companies Pallas Film and The Match Factory should subsequently become regular beneficiaries of the WCF.
For sure, everybody will have their ¨Baumi moment¨ from the last three decades, and the author is no exception here.
It could be have been an evening spent in the “Indonesia” Restaurant in Rotterdam during the CineMart with a long table laden down with 40 plates of Rijsttafel and a cacophony of different languages being spoken.
Or the time when I met ¨Baumi¨ by chance at Munich’s Central Station: I was staying in a small hotel opposite the Hauptbahnhof during the Filmfest München and, feeling peckish close to midnight, decided to go over to one of the sausage stands for a portion of chips.
Imagine my surprise to see the producer leaning up against one of the snack bar counters. On asking hi what he was doing there, the reply came: ¨ Amelio, I’m the producer¨. And sure enough, I turned round to see a film crew with camera and lights, and was then introduced to his Italian production partner Enzo Porcelli on Gianni Amerlio’s The Keys To The House
I ended up serving as an¨ extra¨ walking to and fro with another group of ¨tourits¨ and ¨backpackers¨ in the background of a scene shot at the railway station - I’m the one in the shorts.
And I got to have my chips as well.
A life in cinema: from distribution to production
In 1982, Baumgartner and Reinhard Brundig founded the distribution company Pandora Filmverleih in Frankfurt am Main, which became one of the leading players in the world of interational arthouse cinema, discovering such talents as Jim Jarmusch, Aki Kaurimäki, Sally Potter, Andrey Tarkovsky and Kim Ki Duk.
Pandora’s later move into production has seen the company backing films by Emir Kusturica (Underground), Sam Garbarski (Irina Palm), Aki Kaurismäki (Le Havre), Sergey Dvorstevoy (Tulpan), Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive), Sandra Nettelbeck (Mostly Martha) , Pan Nalin (Samsara), Claire Denis (Bastards), and, most recently, Fatih Akin (The Cut), to mention just a handful.
In addition to Cologne-based Pandora Filmproduktion and Berlin-based Pola X Filmproduktion (set up for French director Léos Carax’s Pola X), Baumgartner was also a partner with Thanassis Karathanos in Pallas Film, which has produced films by Rafi Pitts (The Hunter), Tomas Lunak (Alois Nebel), Dito Tsintsadze (Invasion), and Aktan Arym Kubat (The Light Thief).
Moreover, Baumgartner returned to his native roots two years ago when he set up Echo Film in Bolzano with three young South Tyroleans Andreas Pichler, Georg Tschurtschenthaler, and Philipp Morawetz, in January 2012 to produce films in this new burgeoning production hub in Northern Italy.
The word¨ iconic¨ or¨ icon¨ are bandied about very freely these days, but they would apply to Karl ¨Baumi¨ Baumgartner with his unruly beard and cigar seemingly permanently wedged between two fingers. His presence at future festivals and co-production markets will be sorely missed.