Topper: 'If people aren't happy we are finished'

ROME –The American Film Market’s move into Mifed’s November timeslot from 2004 onward has set off alarm bells at the age-old Italian mart. Confronted with a do-or-die crisis, organizers say they are taking some pretty radical action to address problem areas this year:

  • To avert projection snafus at screenings, techies are being flown in from the U.K.

  • Screening hours have been extended to 9:30 p.m. And if you forgot to make reservations at Bagutta or some other Milanese eatery, it now will be possible to grab dinner at a restaurant inside the Fiera di Milano market hall.

  • The food in the Fiera will be greatly improved — and you will be able to order your cappuccino from your booth rather than having to endure long lines at Mifed’s drab cafes or snack stands.

  • English-speaking hostesses have been hired and trained to give reliable directions so you won’t be late for your next meeting in the labyrinthine Fiera corridors.

“We can’t afford not to do all this,” says Mifed topper Carlo Bassi. “This edition will be crucial: If people aren’t happy we are finished.”

Bassi is part of a new management team that plans to entirely rebuild each one of the Fiera’s 30 screening rooms by 2005 and to start giving generous discounts to sellers as well as travel and accommodation vouchers to buyers next year.

While these sweeteners may be coming too late, they underscore that the 70-year-old film bazaar isn’t about to go down without a fight.

Meanwhile, figures for Mifed’s upcoming edition are on par with last year, with roughly 230 companies registered so far, more than half from the U.S. The question, of course, is how many of them will be back next year?

Most execs at bigger sales companies have already declared Mifed dead after this year’s edition, noting that in today’s economic climate two markets are sufficient. But the prospect of having two AFMs next year (one final edition its traditional Feb. 25-March 3 slot and a second outing in its new slot, Nov. 3-10) has left some sellers cold.

“Who is going to go to AFM in both February and November? I certainly am not,” complains Paola Corvino, head of Rome-based sales company Intra Movies.

Undaunted, however, Mifed is building bridges. The market has courted loyalty from the recently formed European Film Exporters Assn., headed by veteran French exec Jacques-Eric Strauss, who recently traveled to Italy to discuss the market’s improvements.

And Mifed’s parent organization, Fiera di Milano, has pacted with the Venice Biennale and Cinecitta Studios to form a new entity that will manage both Mifed and the Venice fest’s nascent Venice Screenings mart. The alliance, brokered by Italy’s Culture Ministry, is set to provide government funding for Mifed starting next year.

So, while some are sure Mifed is over, the Italians could make a surprise comeback. Says one North American seller: “They may be able to reinvent themselves in a way that might not compete with AFM.”

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