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Geoffrey Macnab talks to Leontine Petit, Dutch co-producer of Berlin Alexanderplatz. Alfred Döblin’s ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz’ (1929) is a classic modernist novel from the Weimar era, telling the story of an ordinary man, Franz Biberkopf, trying to stay afloat in a society riven by corruption, violenceand political prejudice. The hero, Francis, wants to be a good man and to live honestly but circumstances keep on getting in the way.

It was made into a mini-series by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in 1980. Now, a contemporary version, Berlin Alexanderplatz, directed by Afghan-German auteur Burhan Qurbani, produced by Sommerhaus Filmproduktion and Lemming Film, and sold by Beta Cinema, is screening in Berlinale competition. It is supported by the Film Fund and Production Incentive.

“It’s a different approach on Alfred Döblin’s novel, told in the present day from the perspective of a refugee,” Leontine Petit (Lemming Film) says of Qurbani’s 3-hour re-imagining of the story, which she boarded after its pitch at CineMart 2016. “We really get into the head of an illegal refugee and experience what it is like to arrive in Europe and how to survive.”

Lemming had been following the project from the outset. The film had a relatively high budget, around €5 million. Although considerable support was available in Germany itself, Sommerhaus eventually decided to make it as a co-pro and to use support from Eurimages, with Lemming as a minority co-producer.

“I agreed that this is definitely a Eurimages kind of project, both from the type of director and the subject matter. It is about Europe and about the way we deal with migrants.” Petit and her team weren’t just aboard as financial partners. They made a strong creative contribution too. One of the main actors, Nils Verkooijen, is Dutch. “I think he did an amazing job in a very important part,” Petit says of Verkooijen, who plays a transgender character. Dutch technicians were involved in everything from the sound on set to the grading, sound design and the mix.

“They’re always different,” is how Petit (who won the European Co-production Award – Prix Eurimages award in 2016) reflects on her huge range of different projects over the last two decades. “But if we can co-produce with these really outstanding directors (like Burhan Qurbani), I feel almost honoured that we can be part of such projects.” 

The Lemming boss adds that it is rare for projects on the scale of Berlin Alexanderplatz to be made in The Netherlands. The advantages of being involved are self-evident: Dutch technicians get to show their talent and work on bigger European films while Petit and her team get to extend their network.

“For us to be part of these projects also means to be on the radar of the sales agents,” Petit highlights one obvious benefit for Lemming when it comes to selling their own projects in the international marketplace. Because of the high profile films which the company has co-produced, she has excellent relations with leading companies like Beta Cinema and Match Factory, who can advise Lemming and even handle their films in the marketplace.

Thanks to the Production Incentive, Lemming can offer serious financial and creative support and will provide between 10 and 20% of the overall budgets. That is why top international filmmakers like Yorgos Lanthimos, Burhan Qurbani, Franka Potente and Lucrecia Martel are so keen to work with them.

“It is incredibly important that we have the Incentive,” Petit says of the soft money scheme which has helped put the Dutch at the heart of European and international filmmaking.

SEE NL Magazine #38 January 2020 / IFFR, Berlin & Clermont-Ferrand Issue
SEE NL is published four times per year by Eye andd The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.

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