Event to be more inclusive, sez exec veepee Wolf

HOLLYWOOD — This year’s American Film Market powers into the Loews Hotel, Le Merigot and the streets of Santa Monica on Feb. 21 like a souped-up race car that’s had the benefit of a thorough tune-up.

For the past two years, American Film Market Assn. leadership has been tinkering under the hood, responding to input from buyers and sellers to redefine the market, making necessary improvements and bringing a renewed vitality.

As the only entertainment industry trade show owned and operated by its exhibitors, AFM started with a mission to build a market catering only to buyers and sellers of films. Today, that mission has given way to a vision of the event that hopes to include the entire entertainment community, from film students to company CEOs.

Kathy Morgan, in her second year as AFMA’s chair, comments: “In the early days of the AFM, the general philosophy was for everybody, big companies and small ones, to have an absolute fair and level playing field in which to sell their movies. It was very exclusionary and, for the most part, blocked admittance to the rest of the film industry community.

“AFMA leadership realized we needed to make AFM more relevant to the entire motion picture industry by building more energy, excitement and showmanship into an event which could ultimately impact deal making.”

Last year, for the first time in the event’s 20-year run, AFMA board members began implementing several subtle changes, including shortening the market to eight days, beginning and ending on a Wednesday — enabling international attendees to return home after only one weekend abroad.

As an added bonus, attendees found that the midweek start shifted more screenings to the early part of the market, allowing more time to screen product and make deals.

One of this year’s innovations is the AFMA Honors and Awards Event, which begins the second night of the market and is an invitation-only celebration that will gather 1,400 attendees under a circus tent on the beach adjacent to the Santa Monica Pier to honor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Renee Zellweger, Renny Harlin and Roger Corman for their contributions to the independent film world.

Meant to be intimate and focused, the event is a contrast to the overcrowded AFM opening parties of the 1980s, where attendance levels reached close to 4,500.

Jonathan Wolf, AFMA’s executive vice president, explains that the novel kickoff concept will “symbolically enhance AFMA’s new vision to build a big tent around the AFM, both figuratively and literally. We want the AFM to evolve into an event that will become more and more inclusive and relevant to everyone from students in film schools all the way up to CEOs and everyone in between. … In other words, the entire film entertainment community.”

Unspooling at AFM

This year more than 385 titles from around the globe screen at the market, inclduing 238 that have never been seen at a major film market. Twenty one films shown at this year’s Sundance Film Festival are on the roster, including “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” which won the Audience Award and Directing Award, and Special Jury Prize for drama winner “In the Bedroom.” Other notable films include Franchise Pictures’ Jennifer Lopez starrer “Angel Eyes,” New Line Cinema’s “Blow,” with Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz, Miramax International’s “One” with Josh Hartnett and Julia Stiles and Lions Gate’s “Perfume.”

Several features and attractions new to this year’s market include:

  • A reduced price “half-market badge” will allow attendees to attend the second half of the market (days five-eight) at a special 60% cost reduction ($295) from the full market price ($775).

  • The new Producers E Lounge will be joining last year’s successful Buyer’s Lounge in the Loews Hotel, attendees with badges will have a place to relax between meetings and check emails.

  • The AFM Premiere Screenings, which kicked off in 2000, will be free this year to the entire entertainment industry. AFM is providing complimentary AFM Premiere Screenings badges for a limited selection of unspoolings to members of all entertainment industry organizations, students and Santa Monica residents. Registration is available online only.

  • More seminars and educational programs are scheduled. With the expansion to the Le Merigot Hotel, AFMA has invited six industry organizations — the Directors Guild of America, the Writers Guild of America, Women in Film, Independent Feature Project West, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter to program six of their own industry seminars. AFMA will continue to offer its popular finance seminars, this year titled “AFM Finance Conference: The Future of Feature Film Financing,” with panelists to be announced.

Are these new changes a precursor to a bigger plan to transform AFM from a market into a festival? Not according to Morgan, who only sees these changes as enhancements.

“Our business is, and has always been, the absolute balance between art and commerce, and that pendulum swings back and forth,” she says. “Now, more than ever, I think that the pressure is on to perfect the balance more and more. AFM is, and will always be, a film market.”

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