Milan on their minds

Despite downturn, Italo mart still has its fans

LONDON — Ask any sales exec about the difference between the upcoming London Screenings and the Mifed mart in Milan and normally the talk turns to the quality of the pasta.

This year is different. With the shaky political climate in the lead-up to this year’s fall marts, the main question people are asking is: Who’s going?

Notable absentees at Mifed 2001 include Miramax and Good Machine, and a good number of buyers including Universal Pictures. Players are choosing one mart over the other in order to finish business and get home. This predicament adds to the complexity of an already difficult situation.

In recent years, players have become so ruffled by the effort of attending marts two weeks in a row — spending a week in London (Oct. 22 to 26 this year), then on to Milan (Oct. 28 to Nov. 1) — that the usual dilemma about whether one of the two markets should be ditched has progressed to suggestions of abandoning both.

In the works for this year’s Mifed is a meeting to discuss the future market calendar. It includes discussion of the suggestion to reduce the yearly film markets to just two events. One suggestion involves moving the American Film Market from the spring to the fall, and keeping Cannes at its usual May date. In that case, London and Mifed could be wiped from the slate altogether.

The meeting would be the next step in figuring out what market attendees want, and follows on from a survey of international sellers and buyers, conducted by Film Export U.K., which reps Brit sales agents. Survey, which polled opinion on the relative merits of Mifed and the London Screenings, was the first concrete step. Of the 178 replies, 130 voted for Mifed, 36 for London. Eight people said there should only be one event, but they didn’t mind which carried on. Only four players were in favor of keeping both.

“We have reached an interesting point where people are beginning to question the number of markets,” says U.K. sales veteran Alison Thompson of Pathe Intl.

Adds Jane Barclay of London-based Capitol Films: “In the current climate, which even before New York was getting tougher, splitting the market in two is even more depleting and bad for the indies. You get one-third going to one market, one-third going to the other and one-third going to both. We don’t know where to concentrate our efforts.”

At this point, any suggestion of consolidation is just that.

Jonathan Wolf, AFMA exec VP and managing director of AFM says that there are no plans to change AFM market dates and the suggestion of a shift has not been proposed at any meeting of AFMA’s board or membership. “We are contracted for February in Santa Monica thorugh 2004 and we believe this is the right place and time for us,” he states.

Still, amid the confusion and frustration over Mifed’s facilities, which everyone agrees need improving, there’s a general consensus that the Italo mart is convenient, centralized and good for closing deals.

“You can’t introduce projects at Mifed — you do that at London,” opines Emilio Ferrari of U.S. indie A Plus Entertainment. “But you do sell the small territories in Milan and there are a lot of small territories so it is really important. It’s the last market of the year. You don’t do big deals there but I haven’t had a bad Mifed in the last five years.”

All things considered, this year’s market is expected to be no ordinary event. It may even be decisive.

“The big question is going to be who is still standing after Mifed,” opines Keystone Entertainment CEO Robert Vince. “This market is going to be very defining for the independents.”

“Buyers have stopped pre-buying and the fast, loose money has dried up. That’s what people are facing. A lot of people simply used (the threat of a Screen Actors Guild strike) and other events as an excuse to clear out or not make movies.”

Adds Mike Sellers, CEO-president of U.S. indie Quantum Entertainment: “Buyers have clearly been buying less the past 12 months and there have been fewer projects made. Somewhere it has to bottom out. The question is are we watching a cyclical thing or the rise and fall of the industry. We might well be watching a large-scale reordering.”

While everything from union strike threats to recession are impacting the biz, the fact that key markets, most notably Germany, have fallen by the wayside the past year isn’t helping either.

“Germany is still a problem,” says Lions Gate Intl. prexy Sergei Yershov. “It’s also very subdued from the buyers’ side like people are thinking really we don’t have to be doing this now. People are looking for comedies and something lighter.”

Says Christian Halsey Solomon of Munich-based distrib Helkon Media: “There are a lot of practical handicaps right now coming from a combination of union strikes to security on the lots. In my 22 years in business, I have never seen such an industry pileup.”

“From one perspective it’s like business as usual,” says Chris Fries of Atmosphere Entertainment. “From the other, it’s like watch your back. I can’t ever remember having this sort of a business climate. But I can still see light at the end of the horizon.”

Under private management for the first time, Mifed has abandoned the premart Milan Selected Screenings, which has run for the past two years, as well as canceling a gala screening in view of the current global political situation. Mifed boss Elena Lloyd was unable to provide year on year figures for this year’s event after reports suggesting that numbers will be significantly down.

“I think there will be fewer people,” says Lloyd. “But the market will be the same as usual. We will have more security measures and maybe a few less exhibitors but still the market will open.”

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