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The Cologne MedienForum

The Cologne MedienForum, June 20-23, 2004

Organized by the Media Authority of the state of North Rhine Westphalia and major German public and private media industries, the 16th annual MedienForum was held again in the fair grounds of Cologne, Germany’s dominant television centrum and home of Europe’s largest public television group WDR and Germany’s largest private television stations. Catering to the second largest television market in the world, the MedienForum is of particular relevance to German, European, and North American television and film interests since it provides a political, technical and content update on the latest developments of the industry. Presentations, expert seminars as well as television and film & television screenings are provided in four sections of the forum: the AGENDA congress on media and politics; the Cologne International Film Conference; the Cologne Conference and Screenings; and ‘generation m’ , the forum component devoted to media education and training of the next generation. A plethora of the customary receptions, dinners and parties surrounded the Forum. This professional conference is subsidized with about $6 million by the state North Rhine Westphalia as part of its long range economic policy of repositioning the state towards the media, knowledge and information sector. This policy appears to be successful since companies involved in film & television productions reported growing incomes in 2003 with a rise of employment in the media sector. There is no other media event in Europe which matches the scope and depth of the Forum.

AGENDA – Media and Politics
Dominated by considerations of the digital economy The AGENDA – Media and Politics section, offered all day seminars on trends of German media markets, the status of advertising, globalization, digitalization, as well as colloquia on copyright development and the coverage of terrorism by the media. The appeal of the seminars varied from the rather diffuse academic media/terrorism seminar to superb industry presentations. Horst Stipp (NBC) presented updates on digital developments in the US and Europe, highlighting the explosion of distribution channels, the impact of digital video recorders, the growing use of computers for entertainment and the progressive deregulation of the electronic media by governmental agencies. Conversely, as suggested by the well known social scientist Saskia Sassen, a de-regulated internet environment permits new local actors to enter the political sphere and break the hierarchical structure of traditional politics.

The Cologne International Film Conference

The Cologne International Film Conference is held under the auspices of the Film Stiftung [film foundation] which successfully fosters through tied grants film productions and thus employment in that region. Its funding is therefore growing spite of severe budgetary constraints. Attendance of the International Film Conference is a must for any aspiring film maker, German or otherwise, since comprehensive panels cover co-productions, funding sources, case studies of successful independent productions and film distribution. Pitching sessions are essential to the program and networking, the sine qua no for landing deals. As in prior years, Hollywood was a background factor in discussions of co-productions and markets The status of the German film in the United States was labeled as ‘complicated but not hopeless’, given the recent success of titles like NOWHERE IN AFRICA, GOOD BYE, LENIN and MOSTLY MARTHA. Problems faced by German films are similar to those faced by off-Hollywood and off-Sundance independent productions in the United States. Yet what transpired also, at least in the view of some panelists (and of a Bavaria Film Executive ), is the relative absence of marketing savvy and pragmatism by those handling German feature films (and television programs) in the United States. The precarious fate of young film makers, even if initially successful transpired in seminars with the telling titles ‘Lost in Distribution” and ‘Long Distance Run’.

Eighty projects were submitted for the ‘Made in NRW’ co-productions meetings of which 33 made the final cut for presentation. Of greatest value was the resulting pitching session when ten young film makers tried to sell their projects in ten minutes to an audience including buyers and programmers. Most of the projects were feature films conceived as international co-productions with some funding in place already. Twenty three additional projects were also listed in the project book. Pre-organized individual meetings with financiers and potential co-producers followed the pitching session. Chances of receiving funding from the Film Foundation were clearly enhanced if the pitching producer/director had an innovative film concept and the producer secured a significant percentage of the funding. Further, it helped if the production had legs, that is could be placed in different distribution platforms. In case the budget of the production exceeded 500,000 Euros, it was advisable if a distribution plan was in place. In the case of a foreign production it appeared mandatory that a well know German co-producer was involved who, ideally had been funded before by the Film Stiftung


Cologne Conference - Television and Film Festival

By now the best known and best covered component of the MedienForum is the Cologne Conference which was established in 1990 by Lutz Hachmeister and the current director Martina Richter. With seven days of programming starting this year on June 17th, the Cologne conference, presented the ten best fiction and non- television programs of the preceding year selected from over 700 submissions. It is noteworthy that British entries dominated the fiction programs and American productions prevailed in the non-fiction section. Some reality-driven fiction programs and documentaries were truly outstanding and reflexive, thus disturbing. ENGLAND EXPECTS covered the socio-economic crumbling of a watchman’s life, the widely reviewed CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS the destruction of a model citizen’s family prompted by alleged child sex


crimes carried out by the father and the son, CONTROL ROOM documented the
pervasive bias of US television’s foreign news reporting, and Nurit Kedar’s ONE SHOT a disturbing production about Israeli army snipers, with some actually enjoying the act of killing. ONE SHOT’s concept is similar to Coco Schribjer’s FIRST KILL, an investigation of the attraction of legitimate killing, a documemtary shown at the Cologne Conference several years ago. Complementing the the top ten series is the program Junger Film [young cinema], organized with the Film Stiftung NRW and Cologne based film schools. Junger Film featured ten outstanding ‘first feature length films” by the next generation of international film makers, as well as students’ work. Many of the foreign production selected for screenings are premiering in Germany though comparatively few will subsequently be shown on German television. There are not enough programming slots on public television. Further, programs selected by the Cologne Conference are simply too innovative or complex to fare well on German commercial television that is to say to get a large audience. What remains for these superb productions are only few commercial niche channels or late night public television hours. This is most unfortunate since the Cologne Conference screening proves that excellent television programs are being made. Such quality is also characteristic for many of the 150 television programs accessible through the screening on demand sessions held during the conference on the new Rhine River Boat MS Rhein Energy.

The Cologne Conference screenings drew four thousand spectator and two thousand trade specialist who also participated in special afternoon seminars covering strategic information from sports programming, digital entertainment, digital business models, and children’s television. Among the high lights was a session on the rapidly growing packaging of History and Science as Entertainment and some sobering comments by John Lynch from BBC, a production entity obsessed with special effects. He suggested that even the most sophisticated use of special effects does not compensate for the lack of an effective story or story telling ability. One can recap the old adage again that the higher the production value of a show, the less content there is. Pushing this idea further to Saskia Sassen’s presentation during the MedienForum's opening session, the more our everyday life becomes ‘digitized’ the greater the chance that our symbolic lifeworld is colonized and subverted and thus also our story telling abilities impaired. Inspire of this sobering thought, the Cologne MedienForum is the best place to be in late June to get a solid perspectives on the latest development in television and, increasingly, film from a political, technical and substantive perspective… and enjoy the Rhine and Koelsch, a bitter beer only brewed there.

Top Ten Fiction
1) La meglio gioventu, TV series, 4 x 100, min, Italy 2003
2) England Expects, TV movie, 2x60 min, Great Britain 2003
3) Fur TV, TV series 1x30 min, Great Britain 2003
4) Shameless, TV series, 7x60 min, Great Britain 2003
5) Kaetchen’s Traum, TV movie, 91 min, Germany 2003
6) State of Play, TV series, 6x50, Great Britain 2003
7) Nip/Tuck, TV series, 13x44 min, USA 2003
8) Carnivale, TV series, 12x60 min, USA 2003
9) Ambre a disparu, TV movie, 2 x 90, France 2003
10) Der Stich des Skorpion, TV movie, 89 min, Germany, 2003

Top Ten NonFiction
1) Capturing the Friedmans, Documentary, 107 min, USA 2002
2) Weltmarktfuehrer, Documentary, 95 min, Germany 2004
3) Quarante giuorni, Documentary, 56 min, Italy 2004
4) What’re You Gonna do Next, Karolinka? Documentary, 40min, Poland 2003
5) The Kiss that Would Last a Billion Years, Documentary, 55 min, The Netherlands 2003
6) Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, Documentary, 85 min, USA/UK 2003
7) Word Wars, Documentary, 77 min, USA 2004
8) Rhythm is it! Documentary, 100 min, Germany 2004
9) One Shot, Documentary, 60 min, Israel 2004
10) Control Room, Documentary, 83 min, USA 2003

Spectrum Junger Film
1) Cattolica, TV movie, 86 min, Germany 2003
2) Heimkehrer, Drama. 70 min, Germany/Serbia 2003
3) Der Wald vor lauter Baeumen, Drama, 81 min, Germany 2003
4) Long Gone, Documentary 95 min, USA 2003
5) Straehl, TV movie, 82min, Switzerland 2003
6) My Flesh and Blood, Documentary, 83 min, USA 2003
7) Omulaule heisst Schwarz, Documentary, 66 min, Germany 2003
8) Wenn der Richtige kommt, Drama, 81 min, Switzerland/Germany 2003
9) Railway Station Ballads, Documentary, 44 min, Poland 2003
10) Jargo, Drama/Thriller, 90 min, Germany 2003

Claus Mueller, New York City
cmueller@hunter.cuny.edu

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