Pre-Mifed film camps duke it out in London

LONDON — A bitter battle is being fought between rival camps attempting to bring some formal organization to this year’s pre-Mifed film screenings in London.

In the one corner is London Premiere Screenings, backed by the producers’ association PACT and several leading Brit sales companies. In the other corner is Film London Screenings, run by former London Film Festival director Sheila Whitaker.

Attempts to reconcile the two have collapsed amid mutual recriminations, with the PACT side accusing Whitaker of “profiteering,” and Whitaker’s team complaining about bullying tactics from PACT.

Both groups are trying to position themselves as an umbrella organization for the weeklong screenings, which evolved as an informal event for film sellers and buyers on their way to the Mifed market in Milan.

In recent years, the London screenings have become at least as important as Mifed itself for the major British and American sales companies. As the event has expanded in size and become less exclusive, the leading participants have becoming increasingly keen to impose some order on the proceedings.

Several London-based companies, led by J&M Entertainment, joined forces with PACT and market specialist Tim Etchells to form London Premiere Screenings. Its main purpose is to offer a centralized service for booking screens, principally for British sales companies, and it has secured a number of West End theaters for the purpose.

To date it has booked more than 80 screenings for 15 sales companies, including J&M, Polygram, Film Four Intl., the Sales Co., Intermedia and Mayfair. Having serviced these original backers, it is now offering its remaining available screens to any other interested companies, on what PACT sources insist is a non-profit basis.

Whitaker was initially proposing to launch a rival to the London Film Festival that would also include a formal market — an idea that PACT and the sales companies showed some interest in supporting. But when Whitaker was forced to abandon her fest plans, PACT and its allies went ahead with their own more modest efforts to give some more structure to the pre-Mifed screenings.

Meanwhile, Whitaker and her partners, including former Eurimages director Barrie Ellis-Jones, set up Film London Screenings. They have secured 10 screens in various theaters, which they are offering along with info, PR and print transportation services. They are principally targeting sales companies not based in Britain.

Film London also says it is not working for profit, and needs to sell 75% of its available screening times in order to break even, without even paying any staff salaries. British sales agents claim that Film London’s charge of around $900 per screening is much higher than they would usually expect to pay. But Film London execs say that price includes support services designed for foreign companies, and argue that their rates compare favorably to the standard administration fees of $1,500 to $2,500 charged by some American PR companies to arrange London screenings.

Just to make matters even more confusing, several other players are also offering screens in London during the pre-Mifed week. Chief among these is the British PR company Dennis Davidson Associates, which block-books screening rooms on behalf of its mostly American clients and sells the surplus space. Other bit players with screens include Sandy Mandelberger, Unifrance and Raindance Fest organizer Elliot Grove.

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