AFM looks to AFI event to build better buzz

It sounds like a bizarre partnership — imagine Kevin Spacey and Javier Bardem mingling with the Toxic Avenger in the heart of Hollywood.

Organizers of the AFI Los Angeles Intl. Festival and the American Film Market have synergy on their minds as they prep for North America’s first-ever fest-market alliance.

The AFM runs Nov. 3-10, while the AFI goes from Nov. 4-14. All filmmakers receive market badges; exhibitors get fest credentials.

But do the buyers who are trying to get rights to slasher and chopsocky pics really want to sit down and watch the 136 highbrow offerings at the fest?

AFM managing director Jonathan Wolf and AFI Fest director Christian Gaines see plenty of potential in the coalition.

The AFM, with some 1,400 registered buyers, appeals to deal-hungry filmmakers. The AFI fest offers talent, filmmakers and buzz, elements often lacking in the winding hallways of the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel. The plan is that by teaming up, each event will gain influence.

Still, even its organizers recognize that the union could rep an awkward marriage of high culture and low commerce.

“I don’t want to confuse what we’re doing with Cannes,” says Wolf.

“We’re going to take stock and get into it over the next three to five years,” says Gaines.

While this pairing has potential on paper, it contains potential roadblocks. Including literal ones.

Nearly 15 miles lie between the AFM in Santa Monica and AFI’s ArcLight headquarters in Hollywood. Connecting them are roads often clogged by some of Los Angeles’ world-famous traffic.

So Audi is an apt choice as AFI Fest’s first-ever presenting sponsor. The company will provide 15 Audis for red-carpet festival arrivals as well as transportation of AFM and AFI VIPs, celebrities and filmmakers. However, most AFM attendees will rely on shuttle buses.

AFM and AFI split the substantial transportation costs. “The festival creates a marketing platform that wouldn’t otherwise exist for the AFM,” says Wolf.

Up to now, agents would probably rather have thrown themselves under the wheels of an Audi limousine rather than permit their big stars to set foot inside the Loews.

With the AFI association, that could change.

“That’s one of the things that I think will get better in the future,” says Myriad head Kirk D’Amico, who has invited 100 buyers to a party following the AFI Fest bow of “The Deal.”

“One of the things I think we should do next year is have a party or reception in which we invite talent,” he says. “If you get the agents to understand that having their client show up for an hour or two would give them exposure all over the world, they would get it. They know that their clients need foreign value. Historically, the AFM is associated with video product and Troma, (but) it’s not all guts and gore.”

For the AFI Fest, the market could help bring industry attention. L.A.’s first major fest, Filmex, was taken over by AFI in 1987, but the fest still struggles with securing top films and finding a centralized home base. In recent years, the opening of the ArcLight and increased Oscar campaigning at the fest have started to boost the event’s local profile.

Although Gaines is careful to point out that his top priority is “a strong and consistent international film festival,” fests are judged largely by the company they keep. And with the AFM in town, he says there’s been a significant increase in the number of people who plan to accompany their films to the festival.

“We have four people from ‘The Big Question’ and ‘Les Choristes,’ seven from ‘Chrystal’ and eight from ‘Downtown: a Street Tale,'” says Gaines.

Still, Wolf points out, he does not want the fest to emulate industry events like the Cannes fest.

“Cannes is for professionals, not for the people of Nice,” he says. “We will not be that. We’re trying to keep the AFI Festival culturally significant for Hollywood. Hollywood needs an ‘A’ festival.”

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