From startup to major player – Films from the heart of the city

In 2017,  after a production period of almost two years, the Mannheim Film Production Company Gallion is going to release its latest work, a documentary of the history of the „Benjamin Franklin Village“. This brownfield site used to be one of the largest US army residential areas in Germany and is now a large urban planning project bound to be shaping the future of living and working in Mannheim. In this interview Gallion’s Donni Schoenemond and Philipp Kohl talk about their experiences in this “No-Man’s-Land“ and how it feels to be a start-up in Germany.


When did you start Gallion and why?

Donni: I majored in music and have always been interested in film. That’s why I started out as a freelance video producer eight years ago. In 2013, I and Joko (Johannes Kaltofen, that is) started Gallion and in 2014 Phillip joined us. What might be an interesting fact is that none of us ever went to film school and I think that makes our story and our aesthetic style so unique.

Die Mannheimer Filmproduzenten Gallion: Donni Schoenemond und Philipp Kohl (rechts)


What’s the story of the name Gallion?

Donni: Gallion is a made-up name. And it’s Ok by us that it might evoke various associations with sea-faring terms such as galleys or figureheads (in German Gallionsfiguren); after all, we are at a harbor here!

What did you do before you started Gallion?

Philipp: I majored in ethnology and political science in Heidelberg and at the end of my studies started the film project “Transnational Team“. The project became somewhat pretty famous and enjoyed a lot of media exposure. I was awarded the “Medal of Integration for “Transnational Team“. After that I focused on finishing college but realized pretty soon that the film bug had bitten me real hard (laughs). After graduating I worked as a science assistant to a member of the state legislature. And there I learned a lot. Eventually I met Donni and then joined Gallion. Since ethnology usually involves working with film material, typically as a data source, the connection to film is obvious.

Donni: I came to Mannheim in 2004 and started the band MY BABY WANTS TO EAT YOUR PUSSY. Those were the early days of U-tube and as a band we were pretty excited about the chance of putting our videos out there. The whole thing got off the ground pretty big and fast so that we soon began to produce our own music videos and those of other bands. In the process, I developed a passion for film, in particular for editing and conceptualizing.

Which services do you offer and how do you acquire clients?

Philipp: We offer the entire range of the film making process.  Most often and most preferably we realize films about music and cultural activities or documentaries of any style and format. We never really did a lot of advertising; most of our clients come to us through word-of-mouth.

David Lynch probably would have liked the Mannheimer Benjamin Franklin Village as well – the shooting venue of the movie “Niemandsland”.


Your clients come from all industries. Are you open in that respect or do you want to specialize in the long run?

Donni: We have a passion for documentaries. And in the long run that is going to be our focus. It requires a very specific technique that we find exciting and unique. Where else are you given the opportunity to get a glimpse at so many different cultures and realities?

Philipp:  Here I can make the connection to the way ethnologists work. We, above all, want our films’ protagonists to feel portrayed truthfully.  For me it’s very intriguing to accompany people from such different walks of life in their daily routines.

How long does it take you to produce a finished video and what are the individual steps in the process?

Donni: That depends on the film. We have been working on “No-Man’s-Land”, the movie we are shooting at the former Benjamin-Franklin-Village, for one and a half years now. Post-production and evaluation follows next and often takes another 6 months. But I have to say that we would consider this a long-term project.

Philipp: Shorter projects can be completed two days after the shoot. “No-Man’s-Land” is time-consuming and that’s because here we produce an 80-minute film that is a also a long-time study. It is simply such a different format compared to most of the other films we produce for the internet.



Which project has been the most exciting one for you so far?

Donni und Philipp: “No-Man’s-Land“!

Philipp: The project is multi-faceted and that makes it very exciting. “No-Man’s-Land“ is mostly about urban planning and that comes with many angles and thus offers a multitudes of ways to look at the situation. We not only observe urban planning and architecture but also the social and cultural aspects of it. Plus, we compose and produce the film score as well.

What is your BFV project all about?

Philipp: We show the development of the largest brownfield site in Mannheim between the Americans’ pulling out and the beginning of the re-developing activities; that is, in a stage where conceptualizing, vision and demolition work were the daily business.  Beyond that, we also tell you who is moving onto site. As a matter of fact, in the film we feature people and their ideas for this redevelopment project

Donni: We show how life returned to this ghost town, so it is a very lively project. When we got started the Americans had been gone for a couple of years and everything was abandoned and had gone to seed. Last October thousands of refugees arrived and have already gone again. This is like a stage set where various actors enter and start their show.

What are your expectations with “No-Man’s-Land“? What could this film change not only for you but also for the city?

Donni: No-Man’s-Land offers the opportunity to put ourselves on the map as a label specializing in documentaries. Plus, a film production with a theatrical release is an important reference. It shows that we are more than capable of successfully pulling off projects of such magnitude.

In this documentary we capture the history and the zeitgeist of this city. We expect No-Man’s-Land to be a film that will be as relevant in thirty years as it is today.

What’s your relationship with Mannheim?

Philipp: I was born and raised in Mannheim and have always been a fan of this city. For me Mannheim is hometown, movie location and research object all rolled into one!

Donni: I’ve been in Mannheim for 12 years now and feel very much at home here. Mannheim is a city that returns in abundance whatever passion you are willing to invest in it. With a city of that size you cannot complain if nothing is happening, you have to get involved and get things moving on your own.



Philipp, you worked on the “Transnational Team“ project that was so much connected to the city of Mannheim. Did that strengthen your ties with Mannheim?

Philipp: No doubt about it. The film gave me the chance of getting re-acquainted with Jungbusch. Thanks to my approaching so many people with an open mind, a new quality in my relationship with this neighborhood developed. It also helped me to introduce Mannheim, and in particular the multi-cultural side of Mannheim, to a wider audience outside of Mannheim.




Do you feel alright here at C-Hub? What strikes you as especially unique about this start-up center in Jungbusch?

Donni: C-Hub is simply a very good place. It works on a professional and a social level. We have met some very interesting people and made promising contacts. Work rarely feels like work, actually (laughs)!

Is Mannheim a good city for startups?

Philipp: Definitely, by now Mannheim has earned a solid reputation in that respect. The city’s support in its many forms helps in the right and important places, creates incentives and has developed a positive image. The business potential of this region also adds to the fact that young companies find perfect conditions here so they – as the saying goes – can land safely on their feet.

Some good advice for startups you may have to offer?

Donni und Philipp: Having fun at work often helps you to face the risks and overcome the uncertainty that comes with the territory.


Interview: Mawayoflife
Pictures: Sebastian Weindel

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