Optimism prevails at stripped-down fest

MILAN — The 68th Mifed film mart opened its doors Sunday, but the squads of security guards were hardly overwhelmed by the crowd.

First impressions were of a somewhat reduced event with gaping holes on the floor where stands had been set up in previous years. Despite the absences of mainstays including Good Machine and Miramax, however, most U.S. regulars were in place. Lions Gate Intl., MDP Worldwide, Summit, New Line and Myriad were among the bigger U.S. players present.

International heavyweights on hand included the U.K.’s Capitol; France’s Intermedia, Pathe, TF1 and UGC; Spain’s Lolafilms; and Medusa from Italy. Good Machine did not have a stand but sent a rep at the last minute.

Momentum anticipated

While there was not much activity Sunday, players anticipate the mart will pick up by Tuesday before the Thursday close. But for companies with good product, there was no shortage of offers and deals.

Capitol Films hit the ground running, with a slew of sales already in the bag from last week’s London Screenings.

Paramount picked up Australian rights to “Ghost World,” while Icon purchased “Gosford Park” and Village Roadshow has taken “Jeepers Creepers,” “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” and “Pumpkin.”

Miramax has purchased “Jeepers Creepers” and “No Such Thing” for Italy, while “Jeepers Creepers” also sold to J-Net in Korea.

Japan’s Gaga bought “Jade Scorpion” after a bidding war. Alcine Teran picked up Japanese rights to “Me Without You.”

David Cronenberg’s “Spider” has been sold to Media Suits in Japan, Scanbox in Scandinavia and Noah in Israel. Noah also picked up a trio of Brit pics — “The Gathering,” “Me Without You” and “Before You Go.”

Spain’s Lauren Film, which has just released “Jade Scorpion,” also purchased “The Gathering” and “Me Without You.”

‘Basic’ instinct

Cobalt is selling foreign territories on “Swimfan85″ after a worldwide deal with Miramax stalled. John McTiernan’s “Basic” is proving the hottest title on the Intermedia slate. StudioCanal is closing deals on Mike Leigh’s “Untitled 02″ and Danielle Thompson’s “Jetlag.” And Miramax has picked up “Iris” for the U.K. and Australia to add to the U.S. rights it already has in the bag.

But there was still a general sense of business being down.

“We are here, but where are the clients?” asked Wolfgang Scowronek of German sales company Cinepool, adding that the first day was too early to take the mart’s measure.

“I have never seen it so empty,” Fine Line’s Alexandra Rossi said. “It is like a desert town,” she added.

“Last year, people came here in fives,” said Lee Solomon of Helkon Intl. Pictures. “Now you are down to one from each company.”

German players were not entirely absent, as some had feared, but those that were in town were guarding their wallets closely.

“It reminds me of the old days before video,” said Andreas Klein of German licensing company Splendid. “You have to be really careful and only buy smaller films when they are completed. You can’t afford to take the risk and buy them as presales. The German television market is just too tough.”

Japanese shopping

Japanese deals were also still to be had. Dream Entertainment and MDP Worldwide unveiled the $30 million action film co-production “Shoot ‘Em Up” Sunday night, with Japan’s Nippon Herald taking Japanese rights. Pic will be produced by Dream Entertainment’s Ehud Bleiberg plus Mark Damon and Rudy Cohen. Pic will be directed and written by Michael Davis.

Myriad Pictures is screening a raft of pics, and a spokesman said last week’s London Screenings had proved a strong market, with good sales on the two films preeming there, “Killing Me Softly” and “Van Wilder.”

“We used it to show our special films as in the original sense of the Screenings,” prexy Kirk D’Amico said. “I really think London could go down to a two-day event for special films. Let’s not have two weeks of markets. They are cannibalizing each other.”

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