Activity slowed considerably toward the end of the European Film Market at the Berlin Film Festival as buyers and sellers began packing up for American Film Market.

Toward the end of the Feb. 17 to 26 event, French and British execs were nowhere to be found, and major German players such as Futura had pretty much finished up. Despite the slowdown, participants were happy with this year’s business in Berlin. Most recognize Berlin as the first event of the year for inking deals or beginning the mating dance that leads to marriages in L.A., Cannes or Milan.

Market supremo Beki Probst is looking forward to seeing how the proposed October dates for AFM will affect next year’s Berlin market.

The main grumbling this year was over the press’ facilities being located two miles away from the Cine-Center in the Kongress Hall (dubbed Kongress Hell some), causing logistical problems. Press had to be relocated because of the large number of people who came to Berlin this year.

Most vociferous about the press blackout was U.S. Indies chief Lynda Hansen, who said she may abandon the market if the situation continues. “One wall came down, but another went up,” said Hansen. Nearly all the sellers said they missed the word-of-mouth, attendance at screenings and photo opportunities provided by the press’ presence.

Probst and fest helmer Moritz de Hadeln say they’re busy trying to figure out a solution for ’92, including a more staggered press screening sked, or new, under-one-roof facilities for the long term. Sites in East Berlin are under consideration.

Mainly Euro buyers

Sellers moaned about the diminished number of Yank and Japanese buyers this year, although Orion Classics, New Yorker Films, Miramax, Zeitgeist and Angelika from the U.S. attended. Nippon buyers included reps of Gaga Communications, Cine Saison, Euro Space and Daiei. Overall, the European Film Market was decidedly European.

Sellers agreed that Germany, now Europe’s largest territory, is becoming a potent customer. They reckon that in a couple of years, when Germany steps back from restructuring the East, it will be an even greater source of revenue for foreign sellers, especially in terms of television. Contacts with German pubcasters and distribs were cultivated carefully this year.

The Italians probably went home happiest from Berlin, clutching prizes from their competition entries and plenty of offers. Marco Ferreri’s “House Of Smiles” garnered a solid 20 minutes of applause and later copped the Golden Bear, and Titanus Distribuzione’s Sesto Cifola’s phone was ringing at 3 a.m. back at his hotel.

Vincenzo Mosca, head of Euro sales at Sacis, said he was very happy with the interest expressed in Sacis’ competition entries, “La Condanna” and “Ultra,” which he sold to Spain and is negotiating for with Scandinavia, France, England and Germany.

Market’s other star performer was the Swiss Oscar contender “Journey Of Hope,” which sold like crazy. Miramax picked up the U.S. and Canadian rights for the pic, which is being brokered Metropolis Film. Yvonne Lenzlinger, new Swiss Film Center head, said her stand was happy with the turnout at Berlin.

Hansen said the absence of big Yank stars for the competition films did a lot to turn attention to the U.S. indies, and films were better attended than ever. She said Amos Pie’s “Triple Bogey” was getting an average of three or four offers a day.

‘Heck’ hit

Surprise hit of the market was Doug Block’s “To Heck With Hollywood,” picked up by Filmtransit for foreign sales after a packed market screening.

The Central Europeans were not as enthusiastic about the market as their Western neighbors. Hungarofilm’s Judit Sugar says Berlin is most useful for contacts, less so for sales, which will be finalized in two to three months, after buyers have had a look-see at AFM.

Sugar emphasized that not having a film in the competition means fighting, a sentiment echoed by Film Polski’s Vladi Lech, who said only minor deals were concluded in Berlin. But Sovexport’s Oleg Sulkin was happy with Berlin, which in his opinion is increasing in importance as dissatisfaction grows with Mifed. Sovexport concluded several deals in Berlin, including the establishment of a German-Soviet joint venture company for distribution and production.

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