Events could compress

LONDON — Picture this: The American Film Market happens in October. Mifed and London Screenings get scrapped altogether. Berlin becomes a truly European Film Market or Toronto beefs up. Meanwhile, Cannes remains in its May slot and continues its reign as the mecca for buyers and sellers the world over.

Officially, these changes may never happen. AFMA’s late-February market dates, for one, are fixed through 2004.

But talk of changing the calendar is spreading throughout the corridors of the film markets. And it’s spreading fast.

What started as research last year by Blighty’s Film Export U.K. regarding market preferences has taken on a life of its own. From Munich to Manhattan, everyone, it seems, has an opinion about how the future market calendar should be set and, more immediately, what should happen to the fall film markets: London Screenings and Mifed. Meetings have been held, national export unions summoned and if the latest whispers turn into reality, the first concrete changes could be right around the corner.

Five major sales companies — Summit, Intermedia, New Line Intl., Miramax Intl. and Good Machine are taking discussions at last year’s Mifed one step further and have agreed to give this year’s London Screenings a pass in favor of Mifed.

Key players sat down with organizers last Mifed to talk about bettering facilities in the name of an imminent decamping from London.

Reps from Mifed as well as from Germany, France and the U.K. will reportedly meet during AFM to continue the discussions.

“On one hand, the talk is dealing with London/Mifed, which is an unmitigated disaster for buyers and sellers,” says Jane Barclay of London-based Capitol Films, which says it is ready to pull out of London. “At a time when things are getting tougher … the problems there are manifold. There is the cost factor, the time factor and no one can afford to be out of the office for two weeks. That is the immediate issue of banging this on the head once and for all.”

Then, according to Barclay, other discussions naturally arise, including the issue of moving the markets around all together and whether Mifed alone would be enough. “My feeling is that maybe there will just be Mifed next year and if there are problems then it might prompt (more changes).”

One key factor, little mentioned so far, would be reported plans to tear down the Fiera trade center that plays host to Mifed. The notorious building is set to be replaced around 2005, per marketeers, with new facilities outside the city, which would be a major deterrent for market participants who rely on Milan’s great restaurants and shopping opportunities to counter-balance the dismal market surroundings.

In the short term, it means Mifed is unlikely to make major changes now, though an additional six screening rooms, each with a capacity of up to 100 seats, are expected to be added this year.

The future of the Toronto fest as more of a market and Berlin extending beyond its arthouse focus are two consequences players foresee if one or the other markets is axed. Meanwhile, there is also talk of Sundance adding a mart. This year, a buyer’s office helped facilitate meetings for the first time.

“There is a tendency to turn festivals more into markets and that is a shame,” says Sally Kaplan, acquisitions exec for London-based Momentum Pictures. “Sundance is still just about OK, as you are not expected to do meetings back to back. Festivals should be about seeing films. If the AFM came forward there would be too few markets and it would spoil the festivals because like Toronto they would become more market-like.”

The question is if Toronto and Berlin can step up, says Barclay. “For all of the business done at Sundance this year, there was a negligible amount done by European companies. Whether you can turn it into a market for films not at the festival, I don’t know.”

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