As the Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI) continues expanding globally, Santa Monic Civic Auditorium, the annual site for Location Expo, is bursting at the seams. “We’re struggling to accommodate everybody,” says Leigh von der Esch.

Still the world’s largest trade showcase for production locations, this year’s event will host a record 168 film commissions and 29 affiliates. Held in conjunction with the American Film Market (AFM), the dates are set for Feb. 26- 28, with convention hours running from noon to 6 p.m. on each day.

“Our goal over the past decade has remained unchanged, and that is to provide the best possible vehicle for location providers, location users and affiliated businesses to share information, ideas and opportunities,” says von der Esch.

As part of AFCI’s increasing participation on an international scale, three foreign film commissions will be making their debuts at tomorrow’s opening: the Netherlands, Cayman Islands and South Africa. Returnees from last year include Australia, the Bahamas, Canada, Chile, Hong Kong, Israel, Jamaica, Mexico, the South of France and the United Kingdom.

The largest representation by affiliates changes the mix this year. Demonstrating a wide range of industry interests, booths have been reserved by ACRA, the Agfa Division of Miles Inc., American Cinematographer Magazine, Eastman Kodak, IATSE and Universal Studios. Travel affiliates include many major hotel chains.

This bounty of new and old participants has created the need for more space, and has led the AFCI to announce a dramatic change in the Expo’s future. Next year’s Location Expo will move from the Santa Monica Civic to the Burbank Hilton , signalling an end to its affiliation with the American Film Market.

Von der Esch says the show “had grown to such a point that we needed a larger venue.” She notes that the organization had enjoyed its association with the American Film Marketing Association, but had reached the stage in its development where it became necessary “to strike out on our own and realize a greater financial return for the show.”

This year’s Expo is packed with the kind of events and discussions that have led to the event’s tremendous success.

“Working with the Military” highlights this year’s key panel, to be held at the Guest Quarters Hotel on Feb. 28, from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Panelists scheduled to participate include John R.McElwain,director of the U.S. Coast Guard Motion Picture and Television liaison office, and Phil Strub, special assistant for Audiovisual Services at the Department of Defense. Film producers with experience in working with the military have been invited to share their perspectives.

“Our objective is to provide a balanced discussion of the procedures and potential obstacles filmmakers can expect in securing permission from the Department of Defense to film on their properties,” says von der Esch.

“Given the proactive stance the military wishes to take in this area, we thought this would be particularly timely and useful information to share with members of the production community.”

With cutbacks in budgets hampering many state film commissions over the past three years, restraint has been evident on the convention floor. However, Canada and its many film commissions seem to have been immune. They are once again expected to set a standard for lavishness and novelty at their booths.

Lacking the budget to provide the incentives offered to filmmakers by other states, or to present an extravagant show at their booths, California approaches this year’s Expo with gritty determination and a show of numbers.

“California will have the largest single presence of any film commission at Location Expo,” says Patti Stolkin Archuletta, director of the California Film Commission. According to Archuletta, runaway production has been greatly exaggerated. “We still maintain the lion’s share of all production. Because we have a portion of (production) leaving the state, people tend to see that as this huge problem. And that’s not really it at all.

“We’re just working to do a better job of handling the high volume of filming we have. Our message this year is, ‘We’re cutting red tape.’ We’re out to make it easier for the industry to stay in California.” In addition to Archuletta, Cody Cluff, assistant deputy mayor of entertainment industry affairs, and Jonathan Roberts, director of the City Film Office, will be on hand.

In the past, Location Expo has also served as a spawning ground for new film commissions. This year, Romania comes out in strength, being rerepresented by a Romanian Studios booth. Romania recently hosted the screening of “Nostradamus,” starring Tcheky Karyo, Assumpta Serna, F. Murray Abraham and Rutger Hauer.

Russia and Poland have not reserved booths at this year’s event. Last year’s show saw Russia proudly, if somewhat awkwardly, represented. Poland was a standout for congeniality and knowledge of their country’s locations and services.

It is rumored once again that France is on the verge of announcing a government film commission. They are currently represented by the South of France Film Commission, headed by Dana Theveneau.

According to von der Esch, Belgium has demonstrated interest in the AFCI, while the Pacific Rim, which would include China, is also of special interest.

Having maintained its integrity during the Jan. 17 earthquake, Santa Monica Civic Auditorium promises to be the site of the most active and interesting Location Expo in AFCI history.

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