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    Manfred Schmidt Interview – MDM Leipzig

    By Ron Holloway | November 24, 2008

    From 1998 to the present, Manfred Schmidt is the Executive Director of the Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung GmbH (MDM). From 1969 to 1981 he was a member of the Berlin Maxim Gorki Theater. This followed a seven-year period of freelance work as author and dramatic adviser. In 1988, he started working as script analyst and author at DEFA Studio for Documentary Film; and from 1990 to 1992 he was the Deputy Chief Script Doctor at this studio. Before being appointed to CEO of MDM he worked from 1992 to 1998 as Deputy Program Director of the Culture and Research Department at the Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (MDR) broadcasting station. Manfred Schmidt is member of the European Film Academy, FFA Verwaltungsrat (dep.), Board of Directors Moonstone International, Kuratorium Förderverein Deutscher Kinderfilm e.V., Kuratorium junger deutscher Film and President of the Stiftung Goldener Spatz.

    Which were the important MDM successes over the past ten years?

    So far as audience attendance is concerned, the biggest cinema successes at Middle German Media Funding (MDM) were Eric Till’s Luther (2003) and Piet De Rycker and Thilo Rothkirch’s Der kleine Eisbär (The Little Polar Bear) (2001), which respectively drew over 3 million and 2.8 million spectators in German venues. Also, films like Michael Schorr’s Schultze Gets the Blues (2003) and Sam Garbarski’s Irina Palm (Germany/Belgium/Luxembourg/UK/France, 2007) were quite successful on the arthouse market with more than 400,000 spectators in Germany, both surpassing our expectations. Not to forget either are the TV productions supported by us: the broadcasts of Roland Suso Richter’s Dresden (2006) and Miguel Alexandre’s Die Frau vom Checkpoint Charlie (The Woman from Checkpoint Charlie) (2007) reached millions. In addition, there were several films programmed at international film festivals and awarded important prizes.

    This year at Cannes alone, all the films we funded were cited for awards. Sergei Dvortsevoy’s Tulpan (Germany/Kazakhstan/Poland/Russia/Switzerland, 2008) was awarded Best Film in the Un Certain Regard section. Aida Begic’s Snijeg (Snow) (Germany/Bosnia-Herzegovina/France/Iran, 2008) received the Main Prize in the International Week of the Critics. And in the Competition Kornel Mundruczo’s Delta (Germany/Hungary, 2008) was voted the FIPRESCI International Critics Award.

    Were some of these successes foreseen in the funding stage?

    Some of these pleasing results were already foreseen during the funding stage, others came unexpectedly. Often it was due to the very promising screenplays, as well as the participating authors, directors, and producers. Just as important for us as a regional economic funding agency is the development of a functioning and professional media landscape. Here, too, we have succeeded over the past years to spur interest among our partners in the political arena and the media branch and get things moving.

    Which key German film directors were funded in the past by MDM? And will these directors continue to be funded in the future?

    Among the directors whose films we have funded are, among others, Volker Schloendorff’s Die Stille nach dem Schuss (Rita’s Legends) (2000), Oskar Roehler’s Elementarteilchen (Elementary Particles) (2006) and Lulu und Jimi (2009), Andreas Dresen’s Willenbrock (2005) and Whisky mit Wodka (Whisky with Vodka) the documentarist Volker Koepp’s Dieses Jahr in Czernowitz (This Year in Czernowitz) (2005) and Holunderblüte (Elder Blossom) (2007). Recently, the list includes Michael Haneke’s Das weisse Band (The White Band) (Germany/Austria/France, 2009), Sönke Wortmann’s Die Päpstin (The Popess) (2009), and Til Schweiger’s 1 1/2 Ritter – Auf der Suche nach der hinreissenden Herzelinde (1 1/2 Knights – In Search of the Ravishing Princess Herzelinde) (2008) – these films are currently in production and will reach German cinemas in the coming months. With all these directors we have had good experiences during the shooting and later when the films were released. In the future, we plan to collaborate with them on appropriate projects.

    How closely does MDM collaborate with other funding commissions in Germany?

    We are members in FOCUS GERMANY, a network of Regional German Funding Commissions. Annually, during the Berlinale and at Cannes, we participate in a common platform for the German film and the German media branch. In addition, we regularly confer at joint meetings, at which the FFA (German Federal Film Board), BKM (German Commission for Culture and the Media), and other associations participate to discuss strategies and positions for common funding goals and measures.

    Does MDM also fund international film projects?

    In the meanwhile the MDM has funded more than 60 international coproductions, of which more than the half were with Eastern and Central European countries, but also several productions with Western European partners. Over the years, these coproductions have formed the basis of a growing network, whose creation we have accompanied from the beginning and have strongly supported. What’s close to our heart is to bring filmmakers and producers together at the earliest possible time in order to enable a genuine codevelopment of the project. Thus, for example, we have collaborated with the Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg and the Polish Film Institute to set up a development fund for German-Polish projects, beyond this to support platforms such as Connecting Cottbus, the Berlinale Co-Production Market, and the Cine Link Markt in Sarajevo.

    How many film festivals does MDM support? Media Talks and Round Tables, Workshops, other events?

    Middle Germany has a very lively festival scene. Annually, we support seven local national and international festivals, among them the Leipziger Festival für Dokumentar- und Animationsfilm (Leipzig Festival for Documentary und Animation Films), the KinderMedienFestival GOLDENER SPATZ (Gera Children Media Festival (“Golden Sparrow”), Filmfest Dresden (Dresden International Short Film Festival), and the Filmkunstmesse Leipzig (Leipzig Film Art Market)  In addition, there are a number of workshops, professional training initiatives, and branch meetings in Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thüringen. Among these are the Medientreffpunkt Mitteldeutschland (Middle German Media Meeting), the European Animation Masterclass für junge Animationsfilmemacher (European Animation Master Class for Young Animation Filmmakers), and the Discovery Campus Masterschool zur Entwicklung neuer Dokumentarfilmvorhaben, (Discovery Campus Master School for Development of New  Documentary Film Projects).

    Thank you for the interview, and continued success at MDM. –editors

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