Buyers hunt for product, meetings at AFM

First Cannes was panned, then Toronto was toast.

Now the eyes of hungry acquisitions execs are on the 2005 American Film Market, which unspools today in Santa Monica.

North American buyers say they aren’t expecting much from the new pics unspooling at AFM this year, but the mart will still yield valuable schmoozing and a sneak peek at pics coming to Sundance early next year.

“It’s all about meetings,” said one veteran acquisitions exec of her company’s agenda. “Asian executives are here, and that’s good. And you will see promos of movies that might be in Sundance or Berlin.”

One pic said to be drawing interest is the Toni Collette starrer “Like Minds”; another is “Irresistible,” starring Susan Sarandon and Sam Neill. Also attracting buzz is Werner Herzog’s “Rescue Dawn,” starring Christian Bale.

Roberto Benigni’s “The Tiger and the Snow” is another pic buyers will be screening keenly, although many of the big companies saw the project when it opened in Italy a few weeks ago. Focus is repping international rights.

“A lot of the good stuff has already been sold in the U.S.,” said another acquisitions exec. “But I’m going to watch a lot of promos. Something can always pop. But there aren’t a lot of ‘A’ titles.”

Mart also looks like a good spot for North American entities to grab titles with good homevid upside, like helmer Charles Sturridge’s update of the classic franchise “Lassie.”

Among the more hotly anticipated promos being unspooled will be “Alatriste,” starring Viggo Mortensen as a Spanish soldier-turned-mercenary.

U.S. execs also said they will screen most of the foreign Oscar contenders throughout AFM and AFI Fest.

Confab organizers at the Independent Film & Television Alliance are projecting record attendance as a raft of high-profile new players — headed by the Weinstein Co. and a ramped-up Bauer Martinez Intl. and 2929 Entertainment — set up shop at the Loews Hotel today through Nov. 9, which could make foreign sales brisk.

Also at the confab this year are a number of power players who have changed roles: Former Focus Intl. head Glen Basner will be spearheading the Weinstein operation while longtime London-based Pathe honcho Alison Thompson has stepped in at Focus.

There seems to be enough product to keep foreign buyers — who want plenty of star and directing power –interested.

“We have more buyers, we have more sellers. The first indications that I’m getting are that they need product overseas, and that sellers are coming with full pocketbooks,” said Mark Damon, who ankled as chair-CEO of Media 8 Entertainment last year to launch production shingle Foresight, which will have a booth at AFM. The company will use AFM to announce an $80 million project to be shot in Russia, where a number of film equity funds are springing up.

A record 410 sellers from a record 33 countries will be on hand, requiring event organizers to add a second floor of booth space at Le Merigot, which is adjacent to AFM headquarters at the Loews. Last year, 356 sellers from 24 countries attended AFM.

Among the new films set to be announced at AFM, Myriad Pictures is again joining forces with Tapestry Films (“Wedding Crashers”), this time to produce the sequel “Van Wilder Deux: The Rise of Taj,” with Mort Nathan (“Boat Trip”) directing from a screenplay by tyro scribe David Drew Gallagher. Kal Penn will reprise his role as Van Wilder’s No. 1 party protege, who sets across the Atlantic to attend Oxford and show everyone how to whoop it up.

Pic has been picked up in U.S. and most other major territories, with Myriad using AFM to sell the last few remaining territories.

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