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(Kennedys Hirn)

Henning Mankell, Urs Egger, Heino Ferch, Iris Berben, Ronald Muehlfellner (photo © Bavaria Pictures/Jim Rakete)

Production Report featured in
German Films Quarterly 02/2009

Bavaria Pictures partnered with Swedish production house Yellow Bird at the beginning of this year to bring best-selling author Henning Mankell's Kennedy's Brain to the small screen in a TV two-parter titled Kennedys Hirn with an international cast.

"We were approached by Yellow Bird when they were looking for a German partner to help produce Kennedy's Brain and other books by Mankell," producer Ronald Muehlfellner recalls.

The 2005 novel centers on the archeologist Louise Cantor who is convinced after her son's mysterious death that it must have been murder. She begins to make enquiries about his life and the background to his death. Her search leads her from Sweden to Africa where she comes upon the trail of a horrifying humanitarian scandal that her son had uncovered. She soon comes face to face with the people who caused the death of her son to keep the scandal secret – people who are prepared to kill again.

Bavaria's proposal of Urs Egger as director found favor with Mankell since the Swiss-born filmmaker had made an award-winning mini-series of the author's 2000 book The Return of the Dancing Master (Die Rueckkehr des Tanzlehrers) in 2003, which had impressed the Swedish writer.

Since Mankell has practically a co-producer status in adaptations of his works and has a say on the screenplay and key casting decisions, he invited Egger and Muehlfellner to travel with him to Mozambique to undertake first-hand field research in the country he has called his second home since 1985.

"Degeto was very open about the idea of an international cast for this production," Muehfellner continues. "From Sweden, we have the wonderful, charismatic actor Michael Nyqvist [known from As It Is In Heaven] and the great Rolf Lassgard, who is our little 'nod' to Mankell's Wallander series. With the Norwegian actor Bjoern Floberg [who also played in The Return of the Dancing Master] we found the perfect match for the character of Inspector Vrede."

In addition, The Counterfeiters' lead actor Karl Markovics was cast from Austria and the production includes French actor Christophe Malavoy and West African-born Mata Gabin who was in films by Raoul Peck and Francois Dupeyron, among others, and Germany's Heino Ferch (recently appearing opposite Barbara Sukowa in Margarethe von Trotta's Vision) was cast for the clinic director Christian Holloway.

According to Muehlfellner, Iris Berben, who has been recently seen in Bavaria Film's cinema production Buddenbrooks, was "the ideal choice" to play the central figure of Louise Cantor. "She is very similar in age and type and had expressed an interest in the role from an early stage," he says, also pointing to her personal interest in Africa, the issue of AIDS and Mankell's commitment to supporting the local population in Mozambique.

"One of the biggest challenges on this production was to translate this particular story from the written page to the screen," Muehfellner observes. "In addition, we had to organize the logistics and financing for a production at so many locations lasting for over three months, beginning with the studios at Bavaria Film in Munich and then traveling to Sweden, South Africa and Mozambique."

At the same time, the production progressed so smoothly because Egger was working with his "regular" core team ranging from his editor Andrea Mertens and costume designer Birgit Hutter to DoP Martin Kukula who has previously collaborated with the director on five of his TV productions. These included the Mankell adaptation The Return of the Dancing Master, the Adolf Grimme Prize-winning An die Grenze and the German Television Award-nominated Das Juengste Gericht (2008).

ZDF Enterprises will be handling international sales for the two-parter which may be broadcast as a single TV movie in some territories.

Genre Thriller, Drama

Year of Production 2009
Director Urs Egger
Screenplay Nils-Morten Osburg
Cinematography Martin Kukula
Andrea Mertens
Josef Sanktjohanser
Cast Iris Berben, Hans-Michael Rehberg, Heino Ferch, Michael Nyqvist, Rolf Lassgard, Bjoern Floberg, Christophe Malavoy, Mata Gabin, Karl Markovics
Producer Ronald Mühlfellner
Production Company Bavaria Pictures/Geiselgasteig, in co-production with ARD Degeto, Yellow Bird Films/Stockholm
Format Super 16, color
 German, English, French
Shooting Dates Germany, Sweden, South Africa, Mozambique, January - April 2009
With backing from FilmFernsehFonds Bayern, ORF, MEDIA

World Sales
ZDF Studios GmbH
Erich-Dombrowski-Strasse 1
55127 Mainz/Germany