London screenings can't spoil show

LONDON — Newsflash: Mifed is alive!

The Milan film market may not exactly be kicking, but as the event enters its 67th lap, reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated. Indeed, most people aren’t even bothering to predict it any more.

After a few years in which the tide seemed to be running strongly in favor of the London Screenings — the pre-Mifed week in which sellers unveil their top product — the two events have discovered an uneasy symbiosis. Neither is strong enough to kill the other off.

“I really believe that it has now settled down,” says Intermedia’s Jere Hausfater, a longtime Mifed fan and critic of London.

London, with the buzz and glamour of the big city rubbing off on the premiere screenings, the parties and high-powered meetings, may now clearly be the prime event. But Mifed’s functional Fiera still offers a superbly efficient arena for deal-making which many buyers and sellers prefer.

“Everyone is resigned to being in both places, though for me, I could still do without London,” says Alison Thompson, who will be attending her final Mifed as chief exec of the Sales Company before she moves to Pathe as head of sales in December.

Of course, the determination of Milan’s civic authorities to keep Mifed alive regardless of cost probably has more to do with the event’s survival than anything else.

Certainly the old complaints about poor screening facilities, inadequate services and the Fiera’s insalubrious atmosphere are little heard these days, after an intensive refurbishment program designed to head off the threat of a full-blown rival market evolving in London.

Mifed 2000 is sponsored by the Milan City Council, the Province of Milan and the state of Lombardy. This year, the market is linked, under the banner “Creative Milan,” to a new Internet and TV festival called Cwt, taking place simultaneously at the Palazzo della Triennale.

Nonetheless, even Mifed’s strongest supporters caution market manager Elena Lloyd and her team to stick to their limited strengths and not to make the mistake of over-stretching themselves in a vain effort to win back ground that has been permanently lost to London.

“Where they are really trying to take a shot at London, they are going to be unsuccessful,” Hausfater says.

Mifed’s own Milan Selected Screenings (Oct. 26-28), for example, are widely dismissed as an ill-conceived bid to invade London’s territory by attempting to tempt sellers and buyers to come to Milan early. All sorts of financial inducements will not persuade the major companies to quit London early, and Mifed is succeeding only in alienating its fan base by such provocation.

“I wouldn’t touch (the pre-screenings in Milan) with a barge pole,” says Nicole Mackey of Lolafilms U.K., another who prefers the formal simplicity of the Milan week to the preceding wrangle in London. “I’ve told Elena Lloyd that she’s being uncooperative, and it could injure London and Milan.”

Equally, the decision this year to expand Milan’s screening facilities by using four screens at the Cinema Ducale, a multiplex cinema 10 minutes drive from the Fiera, may seem a smart move to upgrade the screening options. But it undermines one of the key reasons why sellers like the Fiera — the fact that screenings and meetings can take place under one roof.

“The whole point of Mifed is that everyone is inside the same place,” Mackey opines.

The Mifed Awards, created last year to honor the top exporters of European films, will be staged Oct. 30. But the leading sellers regard them as an irrelevance, at best, and an irritation at worst.

So what is Mifed for — apart, that is, from stocking up on designer leather goods on the Via della Spiga and enjoying convivial dinners with old friends at Bagutta?

It’s a welcome few days of clarity after the chaos and confusion of London. A chance to conclude that hectic round of screenings and meetings back in Blighty with some actual deals. A chance for big buyers to find time to check out the smaller sales boutiques who don’t get much of a look-in in the Big Smoke. A chance for sellers to clean up the smaller territories, or a few ancillary rights.

Mifed is for the nuts and bolts, the nitty-gritty.

“If you want to buy a movie, it’s the best place to get it done,” Intermedia’s Hausfater says. “There are no parties, no distractions; it’s all business. It’s very consolidated and efficient. I think all that running around and wear and tear in London is just too much for everyone.”

For Emilio Ferrari, president of L.A.-based indie seller A-Plus Entertainment, the dual markets are frustrating, but necessary. “London Screenings works for my theatrical titles, and coming to Mifed pretty much facilitates my full library,” Ferrari says.

So yes, Mifed may (ironically for an event which takes place in the fashion capital Milan) have become irredeemably unfashionable, but this is not necessarily a terminal condition.

And if the film business keeps coming back to the Fiera in the fall, it’s not because the shops on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele will have themed window dressings and happy- hours for Mifed badge holders, but because there’s work to be done, and a concrete bunker on the edge of a great Italian city is as good a place as any to do it.

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