The Persian Gulf war, it appears, will not overshadow this year’s Internationale Filmfestspiele, scheduled to run Feb. 15 to 26 in the newly unified Berlin.

In fact, the European Film Market at the 41st annual Berlinale will have a record number of market participants (2,000), films (over 380 from 37 countries) and booths (49).

Still, the effects of the war will be felt. Air travelers will not be permitted to leave Germany with electronics equipment, electric or battery-powered. Devices such as a laptop computer or a VCR will be held by German authorities in a 24-hour quarantine.

At least one cancellation due to political jitters has been reported, and Werner Gondolf, head of organization for the fest, says he is ready to beef up security if the need arises.

Besides the requisite buying, selling, schmoozing and viewing, the market will also host two conferences this year. One, expected to be held near the beginning of the meet, will be an informal discussion of the future of the European markets, including the Berlinale, and the AFM/Mifed dispute.

A second conference, the “East-West” meeting, tentatively set for the second half of the market, will analyze the dismal state of filmmaking in Eastern European countries currently making the painful transition to market economies.

Under the four-year stewardship of Beki Probst, the Berlin market has developed a strong reputation for tight organization and for expansion, having grown to be a global market of increasing importance.

The market’s longtime function as a bridge between East and West is also getting stronger as trade barriers continue to fall in Europe. Probst sees her role as making everything as comfortable as possible for buyers and sellers, then stepping back and letting them do business.

Every year Probst has the same lament: a lack of space for a flood of participants. An additional floor of Berlin’s Cine Center has been freed for market stands, with press and ticket facilities moved elsewhere. Still, she must deal with a waiting list long on participants who want more space than they were allotted.

A ‘totally different’ look

Probst promises that surprises are in store and that the Cine Center will look “totally different,” with the French occupying a large booth in the new section.

Some 50 countries will be represented this year in Berlin. The biggest stands will be the usual high-profile umbrella affairs going to France, Scandinavia, the U.K., the U.S., Spain, Canada and Euro-Aim, the anchor organization of European independent film companies. Munich-based Filmverlag der Autoren will also have an extra-large booth. Mecla, the umbrella organization from South America, will also be back.

“The Italians are big in official and other sections of the festival this year,” Probst says, “and have decided en masse that Berlin is an important market for them since they sell in Europe, not the U.S.” The Italians are officially calling themselves “The Italians in Berlin” and there will be a record four Italian films in official competition this year.

All of the countries and firms that were new to the market in ’90 are coming back this year, including Romania, South Korea, Turkey and the China Film Corp. Newcomers scheduled for 1991 include Fuji, Yugoslavia Film, Laser Disc and Cinephile Canada.

Central Europe, except for Albania, will be well represented at this year’s market. Probst senses that “East Euphoria” is over and that potential Western business partners are making a more cold-blooded assessment of the situation.

“Last year we had a meeting in which it was predicted that all state companies would disappear,” Probst recalls, “but they’re still there and will participate, while many of the new companies we dealt with last year are nowhere to be found. New companies were popping up in the East like mushrooms, and it was hard to judge their stability.”

National Market Days

For the second year in a row, there will be no national market days. There’s a prevailing feeling that countries like Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary have gained enough attention so as not to warrant any further fuss. Probst does plan an informal meeting on East-West aspects of the business, and will help organize a tour of the DEFA studios. The enormous lot, located in Babelsberg just outside Berlin, is sharing a stand at the market with its distributor, former East German outfit Progress Film. Once the East German production monopoly, DEFA is looking for producers and investors.

Other special market events will be minimal. “It’s important to leave people alone. They’re busy with meetings and discussions. People get nervous when their days are broken up. Private meetings have a lot more impact than seminars,” Probst maintains.

The traditional market reception for invited guests will take place at the Kempinski Hotel Feb. 19. Euro-Aim’s second annual Day of Independents is slotted for Feb. 18. This year’s theme will be “European Co-Production,” says German office head Udo Pfeiffer. The seminar will examine three films as case studies.

Technical improvements are promised for the market’s already top-notch screening facilities. The 12 screening rooms in the Cine Center have all been converted to handle multiple formats, including 16m, 35m and Dolby. Three of the rooms can handle video. An additional two rooms are available to market participants at the test’s main venue, the Zoo Palast, immediately adjacent to the Cine Center. At 160 marks ($107) per screening hour for film and $73 per hour for tape, the European Film Market remains one of the least costly of the major markets, an effort on Probst’s part to keep smaller players and poorer nations in the running.

Rental of a stand at the market starts at $1,333, with phones, video monitors and furniture extra. An accreditation badge costs $80.

Probst credits the increased attention Berlin keeps getting to a variety of factors. It’s the first market of the year, and is a class act: no B’s, porn or karate pics. But despite all her efforts to keep things running on an even keel, Probst says that only the quality of films can influence how much business will be done in Berlin.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more