Invasion Of Buyers And Sellers

If recent complaints about the overabundance of film markets have merit, the news hasn’t hit Berlin yet.

Despite being bookended by Rotterdam’s minimart and the American Film Market, this year’s European Film Market is set to squeeze a record 91 companies into 53 stands, with the whole swarming mass again poured into three floors of the downtown Cine-Center building.

Forty countries, from Sri Lanka to Uruguay and Finland to Cuba, are repped this year, according to longtime market topper Beki Probst.

Probst is especially pleased by China’s bow at the event. After years of absenteeism, Beijing Film Studio is journeying to Berlin and has even rented a stand. Probst credits the coup to the patient efforts of fest director Moritz de Hadeln in wooing the Chinese. Coincidentally, mainland China’s presence comes in a year when Taiwan’s profile is notably lower than in previous Berlinales.

This year’s market welcomes eight newcomers in all, though the net difference is only five, as three of last year’s first-timers are not showing up. Taiwan chose not to take a stand, but two new Hong Kong-based companies, First Distributors and Media Asia, will.

Sandy Mandelberger will be on hand under the new flag of his New York-based Intl. Media Resources. Antonio Urano leads a new delegation from Brazil, Grupo Novo de Cinema, and a first-time appearance is scheduled for Germany’s Titelbild.

As usual, ongoing changes in Central and Eastern Europe are reflected in Berlin, Europe’s historic crossroads. “Last year, quite an important space was taken by Oleg Sulkin, whose Eurasia had the ambition of becoming an umbrella stand for various Russian companies. This year, we didn’t hear from him,” says Probst.

Chance Film Co., a newcomer out of Moscow, has stepped into the slot. Russia’s Sovexport is back and so is Warsaw-based Poltel. The Bulgarians aren’t coming this year due to budgetary constraints, says Probst, and the Romanians, usually backed by a financier in Cologne, applied too late. Interviewed during the final stages of firming up stand allocations, Probst said 10 to 12 hopefuls may end up disappointed.

Exhibitors will have some extra room to move around in, thanks to space left vacant by the former Kunsthalle gallery. Though organizers now have some 2,150 square meters (more than 7,000 square feet) to use, it’s still tiny compared with marts like Cannes or Milan.

“We’re not talking Mifed-scale space,” says Probst, 54, now in her eighth stint as market topper. “For as long as I’ve been here, we’ve had to measure every inch of every little corner in the last week, just to accommodate everyone.”

Probst maximizes space by bundling companies under umbrella stands. The Scandis all bunk together in their regular second-floor spot, the French group under the Unifrance banner and the Brits huddle together in the “British in Berlin” room on the third floor.

There was initially some question about whether the Scandis would again take a joint stand, following the Finns’ defection from the group at Cannes last year, reportedly due to coin shortages. But Probst says she never doubted they would bunch together again at Berlin.

Probst remains unfazed by any perceived “competition” from the American Film Market or Rotterdam. “Berlin isn’t a market on its own, like AFM. It’s connected to one of the three main festivals in the world,” she says, emphasizing the importance of cross-buzz between fest and mart screenings.

“When I see the number of companies we’re still dealing with three weeks before the festival starts, I wouldn’t say we’re losing speed.”

By late January, some 290 films were slated for screening in the market. Probst expected that number to climb to 350 before start of business Feb. 10.

Berlin’s market remains the prime hunting ground for arty baubles, as well as a good place to gauge the temperature at the start of the year.

“For what I would call quality films – high-profile arthouse films – Berlin is the best,” says Christa Saredi, the Swiss-based sales agent who reps fare from Ang Lee (“Eat Drink Man Woman”) to Aki Kaurismaki (“Leningrad Cowboys”).

For those seeking bigger fare, Berlin is not likely to be in the cards. Anders Bergholm, Svensk Filmindustri’s acquisitions head, calls Berlin “a very good market” where one “always finds something,” but adds that his priorities force tough choices. “I’m going to AFM,” he says simply.

Probst isn’t planning any market sidebars of her own this year. The Russians however, are bringing some classics as a low-key nod to the centennial of film, including the Eisenstein classic “The General Line.”

Probst is loath to ballyhoo any particular titles at the market, but points to some of the big packages coming his year. The Chinese are touching down with six in their suitcases, the Austrians and French each have some 15-20 pix, and the Cubans, who had a surprise success last year with the gay-themed “Strawberry and Chocolate,” are bringing 10 titles.

As usual, the product will decide, says Probst. “The buzz will come, I can tell you, in the middle of the festival. It always does.”

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