• Jonas Dassler © Stefan Klüser
    INTERNATIONAL
    APPROACH
    PRODUCER’S PORTRAIT

A PORTRAIT OF THE PRODUCTION COMPANY JUNAFILM

Verena Gräfe-Höft (© Thomas Leidig)

“The inspiration for setting up my own company in 2009 and going independent came after working as an intern at Nimbus Film in Copenhagen,” recalls producer Verena Gräfe-Höft who had graduated from the Hamburg Media School (HMS) in 2008. This particular connection to Scandinavia was further developed in the following years when Junafilm served as the German co-producer on Nimbus Film’s children films ANTBOY – THE REVENGE OF THE RED FURY and ANTBOY 3 as well as Icelandic filmmaker Asa Hjörnelfsdottir’s drama THE SWAN, and Katja Adomeit and Shahr Sadat’s hybrid film NOT AT HOME.

However, the young company’s first project to go into production was the feature debut by a fellow HMS graduate, Katrin Gebbe, with NOTHING BAD CAN HAPPEN which had its world premiere in the Un Certain Regard sidebar in Cannes in 2013. The film was subsequently shown at festivals around the world like Karlovy Vary, Busan, Tallinn, Kyiv Molodist and Zurich, receiving the Auteurs Award at the AFI Fest in Los Angeles and the Screenplay Award at Filmfest Hamburg, among others.

Six years later, Gräfe-Höft and Gebbe came together for a second feature project, PELICAN BLOOD, which was the opening film of the Orizzonti sidebar at the 2019 Venice Film Festival. “We have known each other now for such a long time that we like bouncing ideas off one another,” Gräfe-Höft says about their working relationship. “With PELICAN BLOOD, each of us had come upon this subject from different directions and it was then fun to work on the development together.”

“I tend to prefer those story ideas that stick in one’s mind, ones where you can spend some time reflecting on what you have seen up on the screen,” she explains. “And my journalist’s instinct for an interesting story [Gräfe-Höft studied Journalism, Anthropology and American Literature before going to the HMS] was aroused by the taboo subjects Katrin addressed in both films.”

But Katrin Gebbe isn’t the only person Gräfe-Höft has kept a close connection with since her days at the HMS. “It was something very close to my heart to establish a creative film family where one can exchange ideas and experiences and find support from one another,” she suggests. For example, last Spring saw her working with fellow ex-HMS graduates filmmaker Michael Venus and cinematographer Marius von Felbert on Venus’ feature debut, SLEEP, and another fellow student, cinematographer Moritz Schultheiss, stood behind the camera on both NOTHING BAD CAN HAPPEN and PELICAN BLOOD.

Moreover, another two of the filmmakers in Junafilm’s stable – Eibe Maleen Krebs and Carly Borgstrom – know each other from their studies at Hamburg’s University of Fine Arts (HFBK). Krebs made her debut in 2018 with the drama THE WORLD BEYOND MY MIND which was named Best Youth Film at the Max Ophüls Prize Festival in Saarbrücken, while Canadian-born actress-director Borgstrom is preparing her feature debut, the thriller DESIRE OF THE PREY, which will be Junafilm’s first English-language production.

And the concept of the creative family also extends to in front of the camera: actress Gro Swantje Kohlhof was only 17 when she was cast as Sunny in NOTHING BAD CAN HAPPEN and has now played the daughter to Sandra Hüller’s mother in Venus’ SLEEP, while Hüller had previously worked with Venus on his short films RIVER and ROENTGEN.

From the outset, Gräfe-Höft took a decidedly international approach to the positioning of Junafilm – either as a majority producer on German feature films aimed at the international market or serving as the minority partner on international co-productions. This is currently reflected in her development slate which also includes the German-Ice- landic children’s series FIASOL as well as a German series with horror elements in an apocalyptic world, ELEMENT LOST, co-created by Samuel Schultschik and to be co-produced with Warner Bros..

Moreover, she has extended her network of international contacts over the years by participating in the EAVE Producers Workshop in 2014, and the European TV Drama Lab in 2015, as well as being selected for the Producers on the Move initiative in Cannes in 2017 where she met Mila Voinikova of Miramar Film, who became the Bulgarian co-producer of PELICAN BLOOD.

Most recently, she took part in Inside Pictures, an intensive film business training and leadership skills development program presented by the UK’s National Film & Television School. “The knowledge I have gathered there will definitely flow into the preparations for the next planned international co-production, DESIRE OF THE PREY,” Gräfe-Höft explains. “We already have the sales agent Protagonist Pictures onboard and are now looking for a Canadian co-producer to be able to shoot the film in Canada this coming summer.”

Martin Blaney