Invigorated by his success at this year’s Cannes with The White Ribbon, German producer Stefan Arndt of X-Filme explains his vision for getting arthouse cinema into production.
Berlin-based producer Stefan Arndt has been in high spirits since the Cannes film festival in May, when his production The White Ribbon, directed by Austria’s Michael Haneke, won the Palme d’Or.
“It finally happened after 20 years of hoping and waiting!” the Munich-born producer enthuses. “All I wanted was to get one of our films onto that screen in Cannes. There was a time when I had thought of launching a festival on one of the islands off the coast in Cannes where we could show the films which had been turned down by the festival.
“Collaboration on developing the screenplay together is something you don’t achieve by shouting at one another or drawing up nasty contracts”
Stefan Arndt, X-Filme
“The success in Cannes was one of the happiest moments in my career these past 15 years as a producer, because I really hadn’t expected us to get the top prize,” he continues. “X-Filme had always known how to combine art and commerce, but we had never received an artistic prize at a film festival.
But that’s changed now with The White Ribbon.
“At the same time, I was impressed at the festival by the way you have this combination of top business and good deals with a conscious cultural approach to cinema. People were not fawning to us and, on the contrary, I had some really high-quality discussions about cinema during my time in Cannes.”
The experience of working on The White Ribbon opened a new chapter in Arndt’s career as a producer at X-Filme Creative Pool, the company he co-founded in 1994 with film directors Tom Tykwer, Dani Levy and Wolfgang Becker.
“If you leave out Tom Tykwer’s Heaven, then this film was more than twice as expensive as any of the other films we have made and, at the same time, by far the most interesting shoot I’ve experienced,” Arndt recalls.
“This also goes for the preparation and collaboration with the other partners. I learnt for the first time, through working with my co-producers on this film, the advantages of making films in ‘the French way’. This includes the high-level collaboration on developing the screenplay together, which is something you don’t achieve by shouting at one another or drawing up nasty contracts.”
“The White Ribbon sold well in Cannes, scoring a pre-festival US deal with Sony Pictures Classics and a UK sale to Artificial Eye”
However, he admits that although he was the majority producer on the $18m (€13m) Germany-France-Austria-Italy co-production, “there was initially a slight feeling of distrust from Haneke and his regular team toward us Germans. But, at the end of the shoot, he came and thanked us all, which is quite something since Haneke isn’t someone who expresses his thanks that easily. That’s not his style!
“I was fascinated by Haneke’s script as one of the best I had read for ages, particularly because it was so German and not aiming for cheap effects, but was saying something fundamental about Germany and us Germans,” he continues. “The period of 1913-14 is a time that one doesn’t know very much about. What’s more, this was a story not set among the rulers in the capital, but out in the countryside.”
The White Ribbon sold well in Cannes, scoring a pre-festival US deal with Sony Pictures Classics and a UK sale to Artificial Eye.
“We are now looking for projects which are more precisely defined than was the case in the past,” Arndt explains. “It is now time to concentrate on more German stories for the international market — the world now knows and appreciates what German cinema is about — and I would suggest we should be thinking of raising the general quality of our films as well.”
“X-Filme began by making small films, but now we are looking at bigger projects and structuring them more as co-productions. Funnily enough, it is easier with bigger films than the smaller ones. In our talks in Cannes on the big projects, people often asked, ‘Where can I sign?’ whereas it is much harder for the smaller ones.”
He explains the company has decided to scale back its activities rather than make too many films, focusing “more on working with the directors with whom we have collaborated in the past”.
The seeds for two of the projects Arndt has in development were sown during this year’s Cannes. “I went out to dinner with my wife, and someone at the next table got up and left the restaurant without paying. That gave me the idea for a film I am now planning,” he says.
“The Cannes success may have done wonders for Arndt’s motivation and that of his staff at X-Filme, but it has not made financing their projects any easier”
And a small, as-yet-unnamed project for Tykwer, which will see the director “going back to his roots”, as Arndt puts it, is based on an idea that came to the producer when he was stuck in a downpour at the festival.
At the same time, he is working on raising finance for a large-scale international co-production of Tykwer’s adaptation of Dave Eggers’ 2006 novel What Is The What, based on the story of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese refugee and member of the Lost Boys of Sudan programme.
Meanwhile, this summer will see Arndt oversee the shooting of Dani Levy’s new feature, the arguably semi-autobiographical Das Leben Ist Zu Lang about a Jewish film director whose commercial success sparks unexpected personal problems.
And a big-budget project is also on the horizon for Levy, whose credits include Go For Zucker! (Alles Auf Zucker!) and My Führer (Mein Führer), in the shape of the $28m (€20m) The Ritchie Boys (working title) which X-Filme will produce with Norbert Sauer of UFA Film-Fernsehproduktion next year.
Already the subject of the 2004 documentary by Tangram Film’s Christian Bauer, Levy’s film will be based on the true story of a group of young men who fled Nazi Germany and returned to Europe in US Army uniforms to help the Allied war effort.
This winter could at last see principal photography begin on Wolfgang Becker’s first feature since his internationally successful East-West Germany comedy Good Bye, Lenin! in 2003.
While Becker had made a short film, Ballero, for the 2006 football World Cup in Germany and was one of the contributors to the omnibus film Germany 09, none of his other projects in development came to fruition.
The road movie Ich Und Kaminski is based on the novel by Daniel Kehlmann and will be structured as a European co-production shooting at locations in Germany, France and Belgium, among others. It will reunite Becker with the star of Good Bye, Lenin!, Daniel Brühl as the ‘Ich’ of the film’s title, a wannabee arts journalist hungry for fame and fortune at all costs.
The Cannes success may have done wonders for Arndt’s motivation and that of his staff at X-Filme, but it has not made financing their projects any easier, the producer admits. “But as I always say, ‘Each film is a little war’,” he offers. “People ask if quality arthouse cinema has a future and I would reply that it does — and that we want to be part of it.”
- One of the co-founders of the Sputnik distribution and exhibition collective in Berlin from 1984.
- Took over management of Sputnik Film in 1992 and launched the production company Liebesfilm with Tom Tykwer the same year.
- Produced Tykwer’s feature debut, Deadly Maria, a year later.
- In 1994, joined forces with Tykwer and directors Dani Levy and Wolfgang Becker to establish the production house X-Filme Creative Pool.
- Producer credits include Levy’s Stille Nacht, Becker’s Good Bye, Lenin!, Tykwer’s Run Lola Run and Heaven, Sebastian Schipper’s Gigantic (Absolute Giganten), Oskar Roehler’s Agnes And His Brothers, and as majority producer on Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or winner The White Ribbon.
- Named Media Salles’ European producer of the year 2003 at Cinema Expo International.
- Board member of the German Film Academy and the producer lobby group film20 before it was merged into the German Producers Alliance in 2008.
- Married to Manuela Stehr, with one stepson.