EXCLUSIVE: Ingo Fliess, producer of director Ilker Çatak’s German International Feature Film Oscar nominee The Teachers’ Lounge, tells Breaking Baz that he has partnered with Munich-based Trimafilm to explore “common” projects.
Fliess’ production outfit If… Productions will start work with Trimafilm on a prestige television mini-series being developed for Çatak and Eva Trobisch, who works alongside Trimafilm’s founder Mariko Minoguchi as a writer and director, and whose film Ivo will play at the forthcoming Berlinale.
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Both the If… Productions and Trimafilm outfits enjoy a similar flair for smart and socially aware movies, and for passionately made documentaries. Trimafilm’s releases include the feature film All Is Well and the documentary Iron Butterflies.
Fliess explained that last year his company decided to share office space with Trimafilm while “remaining two independent companies” who are in constant exchange “of ideas about directors, scripts, about ideas and having many synergies.” He stressed, however, “we’re not merging, we’re collaborating.”
After pressing him further Fliess allowed that the new formation ”is a soft merger, because we don’t merge, we’re keeping independent. You never know what the next step is, we’ll now be making some common experiences.”
Also, he noted, that the two small companies working together “make the impression of being a bit bigger” enabling them to explore new projects “on a bigger scale for a bigger reach, and we think this is a smart strategy.”
Certainly smart at a time when the German industry is under economic pressure. “We have to find solutions where we can make good films that are entertaining yet intelligent films. And we think this kind of collaboration totally makes sense,” Fliess continued.
David Armati Lechner, a producer at Trimafilm sent me a statement on behalf of Trimafilm that reflected much of what Fliess had told me. “In the pursuit of being stronger together and remaining independent in a consolidating market, If… Productions and Trimafilm have moved into a joint office space aiming to work closely together on future projects. We are united by the core values of vision-driven arthouse film, series and documentaries, while providing a safe space for our creatives.”
Fliess and Trimafilm are likely to partner on the untitled mini-series with Germany’s public television service ZDF because ”these are reliable partners to my mind who we trust.”
When I mentioned Netflix, Fliess countered that he’s never worked with the streamer “but of course we will also get in touch with Netflix.” He observed, however, that ZDF would be his “preferable choice” because “it’s quite powerful, and the other thing is, you can keep the rights” he said with a wry smile.
Further details regarding the mini-series will be announced, Fliess told me, at some point between the Berlinale, which starts on February 15, and Cannes in May.
The Berlinale’s uppermost on his mind because it will see the premiere of the If… Productions-backed film Subject: Filmmaking, directed by documentarian Jörg Adolph (Kanalschwimmer) and 91-year old German film-making legend Edgar Reitz, who wrote and directed the landmark Heimat trilogy.
Following Berlinale, Fliess will accompany Çatak and The Teachers’ Lounge creative team, along with its ferociously talented star Leonie Bensch, to attend the Oscars where the movie shares the International Feature Film category spotlight with Matteo Garrone’s Io Capitano (Italy); J.A. Bayona’s Society of the Snow (Spain); Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest (UK), and Wim Wenders’ Perfect Days (Japan).
It’s worth repeating that with The Zone of Interest also in contention in the Best Picture section along with Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall; Celine Strong’s Past Lives, and Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things, international movies are on the ascendant within the Academy.
If there’s going to be an upset in Best Picture, and boy that would be huge, at least three of those aforementioned titles could pull it off. Am I mad? Sure. Certifiable. And, yes, I’m being ridiculously and playfully provocative because it’s a cold Tuesday in London and I haven’t had a cuppa tea yet. I mean, can anything topple Oppenheimer? Probably not. But I was there the night Moonlight won over La La Land.
Anyway, back on planet Reality.
“We will have a nice delegation traveling with us,” Fliess told me while also acknowledging “I don’t think we have too many chances to win against The Zone of Interest.”
Still, Fliess insisted that “we’re fighting until the end. I’m trying everything because you never know.” As soon as Fliess uttered those words he nodded sagely “I’m quite realistic” about the outcome “let’s see.”
In a sense though, the film’s already won just by being an Academy Award contender, and because of the terrific achievements it has attained.
Fliess smiled ruefully as he recalled how The Teachers’ Lounge, before last year’s Berlinale where it premiered in the Panorama section, was being dismissed by some as being “a nice film” with “no international potential.”
He remembers being disappointed that the main Berlinale competition declined it. But Panorama head Michael Stütz got behind it and showered the film with all the trappings it would have received had it been a competition film.
However, the film played well at an earlier EFM screening and he praised Pamela Leu of Brussels-based Be For Films, part of Paris-based Playtime Group, for selling the film internationally to key territories on the first day. “And we thought, okay, maybe this film has some international potential after all!”
Sony Pictures Classics sure figured it had. SPC picked up all rights in North America, Latin America, and Europe, excluding Hungary.
Actually, Fliess and I met at a jolly dinner that SPC hosted during last year’s Telluride Film Festival, and it’s where he and Çatak regaled me with tales about their earlier works, and their next feature film project Yellow Letters, which, several months on is in “hot prep,” Fliess said, with a planned 33 shooting day schedule from May through to mid-July.
Meaning, he said when we spoke recently, that they’ll have a rough cut towards the end of this year thereby ensuring “we’re having the festival season of 2025 before us.”
Yellow Letters will be completely different from The Teachers’ Lounge, Fliess stated.
“It’ll be a rich film about a marriage under pressure,” starring Tansu Bicer (Midnight at the Pera Palace) and Gizem Erdem (The Monsters’ Dinner) playing the couple in question.
A third lead part, that of the couple’s teenage daughter, is likely to go to a 14-year-old Çatak auditioned a few days ago in Istanbul.
The film will chart how a married couple reacts to the challenge of losing a job, losing their apartment , and losing their morale. “How do you react to that?” he questioned. “Can you lose your liberal mind when you face the challenge of losing everything?” he argued.
“We have so many countries in the world, not only in Europe, who face the same fate as Turkey,” he opined.
Though set in Turkey, the film’s being shot in Germany to achieve “a shift in perception “with the choice of locations.
“The film is a completely Turkish story, shot in the Turkish language with a Turkish cast,” but not a foot of it will be captured on Turkish soil. He spelt out that for Yellow Letters “our Istanbul is Hamburg and our Ankara is Berlin.”
There’ll be no disguising the identity of those German cities “we’re showing them as they are but the story plays In Hamburg and Berlin” but the effect will be subtle. “I don’t think you’ll think too much about it but you will have that little shift of perception when you say, but that isn’t Istanbul, that’s obviously Hamburg.”
Fliess looked grave when he said that another reason for shooting in Germany “is because it’s too daring and maybe even too dangerous to shoot the film in Turkey.”
But there’s universality in the story “because Turkey is not the only state in the world that uses state power to suppress their people.”
It’s an experimental approach, he said, noting for instance, that in showing Berlin “we will definitely show much of the Fascist architecture there” adding that “it’s an additional layer of iconography which is adding additional flavor.”
Key creatives from The Teachers’ Lounge will be on hand for Yellow Letters. They include director of photography Judith Kaufmann, production designer Zazie Knepper, costume designer Christian Rõhrs, and composer Marvin Miller. ”We’re trying to continue with the people we love and trust,” Fliess commented.
The circle of “love and trust’ extends to other partners involved in the success of The Teachers’ Lounge like ZDF, ARTE, Be For Films, and German distributor Alamode Film. “They’re all part of it again,” Fliess said cheerfully. “So, we’re still trying to do the family business, kind of.”
New friends are on board for Yellow Letters such as Haut et Court who are now, as reported last year, on board too to handle “the French side.”
Fliess scratched his head and laughed when I observed that all this “love” in the post for Yellow Letters has stemmed from The Teachers’ Lounge, a film that was deemed to lack international appeal. “I still can’t believe it,” the producer remarked as his eyes brightened.
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