Ranging from features to docs, shorts to animation, drama to comedy, the experimental to international festival highlights from Berlin, Leipzig or Oberhausen, the Goethe-Institut Toronto’s Goethe Films series, curated by Jutta Brendemühl, offers film lovers the opportunity to see a top selection of German contemporary arthouse film.
This year, Goethe Films presents the Canadian premiere of the entire first season of BAD BANKS starring Paula Beer (Transit; Frantz; Never Look Away). The German-Luxemburgish co-production set at the heart of Europe’s financial capitals premiered at the 68th Berlinale 2018 and went on to win the Audience Award at the Kino Festival New York. Beer, who was a jury member for the 1st Cannes International Series Festival, won Best Actress at the Bavarian Television Awards for her role as Jana.
BAD BANKS has screened in nearly 40 countries, and just been renewed for a second season. Over six episodes, the series takes a fascinating look behind the scenes of the world of high finance. To find out more about how Ms. Brendemühl came to program this series as part of Goethe Films, I asked her 5 Questions…
HM: In your opinion, what was the main reason for programming BAD BANKS as part of the Goethe Films series?
Jutta Brendemühl (JB): As the programmer for Goethe Films, I’ve been watching the astounding international success of German [works] with increasing curiosity. At a time when everyone is looking for that elusive high-quality original content that is locally developed but globally appealing, German filmmakers seem to have something very attractive to add to the conversation, whether period or genre or hyper-modern shows. The supernatural thriller DARK was featured very successfully at TIFF17’s Primetime sidebar, Tom Tykwer’s wild Weimar saga BABYLON BERLIN has taken the world by storm. And then I saw BAD BANKS at the Berlinale earlier this year, and just couldn’t get the characters and the images and the music and the themes out of my head.
By the time I had secured the exclusive Canadian premiere for the Goethe-Institut Toronto’s Goethe Films contemporary German film program in the spring, the show had 1.5m viewers in a simultaneous web and TV launch in Germany and the lead Paula Beer had been asked to be on the Cannes Series jury. The fact that BAD BANKS is so naturally female-centric is an added bonus. Producer Lisa Blumenberg had the story idea fours years ago. Leads Paula Beer, Desiree Nosbusch & Mai Duong Kieu are realizing it on the screen.
Not that this is coming entirely out of the blue: Germany has quite a history of strong TV miniseries –including Fassbinder!—and in 2012 we already showed the Berlin-based Russian mafia thriller IN THE FACE OF CRIME by Dominik Graf at the Lightbox, and people loved it. For a curator, it’s also interesting and revealing to follow trends and pick up developments at key points over years and to compare notes with what has changed.
HM: The series premiered at the 68th Berlinale 2018 and screened at the Kino Festival New York. Do you believe screening these types of series at film festivals finds them new audiences?
JB: I think it is an important element in terms of positioning a show in the myriads of content right now (and hoping for early industry hype), and then of course it’s crucial for international acquisitions. After Berlin, BAD BANKS sold to 40 countries, including to Hulu in the US, alas not (yet) to Canada. It’s also a great teaser for audiences who want to see the latest in accessible small-screen storytelling. In New York, BAD BANKS won the Audience Award based on screening only the first two of six episodes.
In Toronto, we’re lucky to show the whole first season, two episodes each over three nights. The great thing is that BAD BANKS develops the plot and characters so subtly and consistently that you can easily still jump in at episode 3 and get it with a little recap. The crew, by the way, is starting to shoot season 2 in January, so we might have to catch up with more next year – or hope for a Canadian buyer.
HM: In terms of other foreign TV series, what is BAD BANKS’ relevance to general audiences?
JB: I love (and am somewhat surprised) how especially North American audiences go after these new global productions. DEUTSCHLAND 83, subtitles and all, was a bigger hit in the US and the UK than it was in Germany. BAD BANKS has many things going for it that transcend the country of origin: It’s a co-production and crosses borders from the beginning, being set in Frankfurt, Luxembourg and London, with a multilingual cast of European star actors. It’s been compared to BILLIONS and WOLF OF WALLSTREET for its insider portrayal of a financial crisis. At the end of the day, it’s about how our values are being corrupted by decisions we each make every day, at work and at home. It’s really hard not to relate and not to walk out and think “what would I have done?” in that situation or scene.
HM: The leads in BAD BANKS are well-known and excellent actors in their own right. What are your personal thoughts on the show’s lineup & the hype around the show?
JB: You are right, the ensemble performance is amazing. I for one discovered Barry Atsma, the male lead, a mesmerizing Dutch actor I didn’t know before, and that’s always exciting… to see new faces, hear new voices. Now I want more. Would I have predicted the avalanche of awards rolling over BAD BANKS as we speak (several German Acting Awards, 8 nominations for the “German Emmys”)? Perhaps not. But I have been observing the momentum that the series has built over the past nine months, and you can only sustain that kind of recognition with substance and quality and something to show for. Director Christian Schwochow last month received the ultimate accolade: He was invited to direct two episodes of THE CROWN, as the first non-British director to do so.
HM: Lastly, what would you say to mainstream audiences who prefer to watch TV series on Netflix who question why see BAD BANKS on a big screen?
JB: I watch shows on my phone on the plane, on my decent-sized 4K HD screen at home and in cinema. Having mentioned “small-screen” above, I’ve seen BAD BANKS both on TV and in cinema, and the great cinematography and über-cool sound design make it worth seeing in the theatre. Just like Netflix’s ROMA at TIFF this year. BAD BANKS has been lauded for its production value and VFX for a reason, just the sweeping aerial shots of Frankfurt’s skyline are worth the big screen. Plus, since there isn’t a Canadian TV deal yet, Goethe Films at TIFF Bell Lightbox on October 4, 9 and 11 are your one and only chance to see it for now.