A small band of British buyers and sellers is heading for Berlin, optimistic that the gulf war will not put a damper on a traditionally brisk market.

Few Brits profess to worry about their personal safety. “You can’t let that stop you,” says Romaine Hart of Mainline Films, a specialized distrib that also operates four cinemas in the south of England, with a fifth planned for the Thames River village of Henley.

A typical viewpoint from the sales contingent came from Bill Stephens, head of sales for Film Four Intl.: “Berlin is very high on our list of priorities; it’s ideal for low-budget, art-flavored [fare].” He added one caveat: “My only worry is that not enough of the big buyers will turn up; a lot seem reluctant to get on planes. [But] I’m sure many Europeans will go because Berlin is on their doorstep.”

Buyers polled by VARIETY either had not had time to digest the Berlin fest’s vast program or had not zeroed in on particular films. And most said their larders are already well stocked, so they can afford to be selective.

“I’m hoping to discover something that’s original and interesting and that will be well-reviewed,” says Hart, who frequently spots films in Berlin and begins negotiations that are usually concluded at the American Film Market. By that route, she picked up “Bagdad Cafe” and “The Nasty Girl” (currently an arthouse click in Britain). Handling just six to eight pictures a year, she says she can afford to be choosy.

“It’s always a very good, sober market,” says Gala Film Distrib’s Kenneth Rive, who collared Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Short Film About Love” in Berlin last year.

Artificial Eye’s Pam Engel, whose husband Andi is a Berlin regular, says she’ll be on the lookout for U.S.-indie and foreign-language items to feed their distrib pipeline and five cinemas.

“We’re interested in pictures like ‘Repo Man’ [a previous Berlin purchase by Artificial Eye] if the majors miss them,” she says. But, she adds: “We’re already quite well stocked, so we won’t buy unless we want to.”

Artificial Eye is launching its own homevideo label in April to exploit a library of some 20 to 30 titles, and is mulling deals with various U.K. vid companies.

Among others reported to be sending acquisition scouts to Berlin are the BBC, Channel 4 and specialized distribs Curzon, Electric Pictures, Metro Pictures and Contemporary Pictures.

Brits take a stand

The “British In Berlin” stand will house most U.K. sellers including Film Four Intl. (sales arm of Channel 4), the British Film Institute, Jane Balfour Films, and production and management-services firm First City.

Majestic Films has Kevin Costner’s “Dances With Wolves” in competition, designed as a launch pad to prime the European release. At presstime, Majestic was unsure whether Costner would be able to attend the Berlin screening.

Film Four will make the first sales push on four pictures: Christine Edzard’s “The Fool” (special screening), Mike Leigh’s “Life Is Sweet,” Stephen Poliakoff’s “Close My Eyes” and Rob Tregenza’s “The Arc” (all in Panorama).

BFI sales topper Sue Bruce-Smith will present one new feature, Ron Peck’s “Strip Jack Naked.” She also aims to drum up interest in Isaac Julien’s “Young Soul Rebels” ahead of its Cannes preem, and to mop up the remaining territories on David Hayman’s “Silent Scream.”

BFI production head Ben Gibson will be seeking co-funding for first-time helmer Mark Nash’s “Memoirs Of A Spacewoman” and Beeban Kidron’s “Anchoress.”

According to Bruce-Smith: “Berlin is a great, serious market. There might be some no-shows from the U.S., but I don’t think the gulf war will stop the Europeans from coming.”

“Quality English-language films do quite well in Berlin,” opines Carole Myer of The Sales Co., which is fielding Neil Jordan’s “The Miracle” in competition plus Derek Jarman’s “The Garden.” “You get the full gamut of distributors – Germans, Scandinavians and some Japanese.”

Also Berlin-bound is Manifesto Film Sales’ John Durie, angling for deals on Nick Ward’s “Dakota Road.”

First City directors Martin Bruce-Clayton and David Kelly, who have recently become involved in raising co-prod coin, want to meet with producers and directors who are developing screenplays.

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