Following AFM's shift to fall, Berlin's bazaar steps up

With AFM out of the picture during the first quarter of the year, the Berlin arthouse minimart known as the European Film Market is poised to fill the gap and grow tremendously in sheer size and scope of product.

Hordes of international industryites are heading for the 2005 Berlinale, many of whom have never before made the trek. Others are coming who in past editions would not have traveled to the Potsdamer Platz unless they had a film unspooling in the Official Selection.

Meanwhile, starting this year the EFM is taking on a literary bent, kicking off its partnership with the Frankfurt Book Fair under which worldwide publishers will start peddling their properties at the mart.

Among the film folks are large contingents of U.S. indies and Asian companies, all seeking to do business as they used to at the February AFM, before the Santa Monica mart switched its calendar slot to November.

But while classy new digs in the nearby Martin-Gropius-Bau exhibition hall will next year accommodate twice as many company stands — close to 300 — don’t expect the EFM to mutate into anything like an AFM clone.

“The specific profile of the European Film Market has always been the interrelation between the festival program and the films in the market,” says EFM topper Beki Probst, who also sits on the Berlinale’s selection panel. Last year almost 40% of product screening for buyers was fest fare. “This ensures that they are new pictures, and also that they have a quality label. And that is something which I don’t think is going to change,” Probst adds.

“You can sell genre films there, but I don’t think it’s going to become a big place for that,” opines Ehud Bleiberg, CEO of L.A. indie Dream Entertainment and a longtime Berlin aficionado.

Yet with more film sellers and buyers Berlinale-bound — many working out of the Grand Hyatt and other hotels — the market does seem destined to disengage from the fest. At least that’s a development some have high hopes for.

“We are expecting to buy tentpole films, or niche edgy films, mainly English-language,” says Japan’s Shochiku major studio topper Takeo Hisamatsu, who will be attending for the first time. Hisamatsu thinks “the big question for Japanese distributors is whether Berlin can become a substitute for AFM or not.”

Among these is Toho Motion Picture Co., another Japanese studio coming for the first time in full force.

According to Jane Barclay, chief of London’s Capitol Films, many U.S. distribs who once skipped Berlin have now instead inked it permanently into their regular travel schedules.

“At the AFM you would get more American video-driven companies. But the bigger U.S. companies will all go now, even those less focused on Berlin-type movies,” she says.

Among these are Lions Gate, Showcase Entertainment and First Look Features, all with sales teams in tow for the first time.

Yet the prospect of a Yank onslaught at the European Film Market doesn’t seem to be fazing most Euro niche players who have long made Berlin their prime selling ground.

“It’s a market where quality movies — even small ones — get attention, and I think that will continue. At least I hope so,” says Paola Corvino, head of Rome sales boutique IntraMovies.

“It’s going to be exciting,” enthuses Thorsten Schaumann, international sales topper of Teutonic outfit Bavaria Films. “Of course there is going to be a greater variety of product on offer, but this brings more opportunities for everybody. For the international sales people, for the buyers and, of course, for the German industry.”

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