AFI connection

Fest gives pix a lift, but it's still a trek

It appeared at a certain stage in the alliance established last year between the American Film Market and the American Film Institute’s AFI Fest that the only thing the two entities had in common was the “American” in each others’ titles.

Asking buyers and sellers about the fest on the market’s first day in the crowded hallways at the Loews hotel, the common reaction was a blank stare or a hazy sense that, yes, there was a festival out there. Hollywood, right? Isn’t that a long way from Santa Monica?

Well, yes, but it turns out that enough marketers took the shuttle east from the beach to try out AFI, as festival has become known in shorthand, that organizers of both events now declare the experiment was a success.

“Did we get what we wanted, which was enough AFM attendees going to AFI to make the alliance a reality?” asks AFM managing director Jonathan Wolf. “Yes, I think so. Having said that, we’re measuring this pairing in terms of years, not just a year. This year, 60% of the films in the festival are being represented in one way or another in the market, which is real growth from last year.” Last year, 37 festival films were repped in the market; that number has climbed to 45 this year.

After AFM’s calendar move from early in the year to November, and AFI’s own gradual shift into the heart of the awards season, Wolf says that cooperation seemed inevitable: “With a large majority of AFI’s programming being international, and with the foreign film and specialty markets requiring special platforming from the market and selling ends, having a festival like AFI and its real audiences provides a profile that these films otherwise wouldn’t have in a packed market.”

Some AFM vets say that the AFM-AFI link makes sense, particularly if they have a film or two in play. Most, such as Mexican Film Institute international sales topper Miguel Ortega, are optimistic, despite last year’s rough spots. “I believe there will be better interaction between AFM and AFI this year,” he notes. “Last time, if you had business at the hotels until 7:30 p.m., it was impossible to get to a screening at the ArcLight in Hollywood (AFI’s primary venue) at 8 p.m. The shuttle trip usually took more than 30 minutes.”

One of this year’s several innovations is private transportation for AFMers needing to speed — so to speak — to Hollywood. The fest also has an industry liaison to coordinate sales companies’ needs with the festival, which can range from delegates receiving priority ticket treatment to making sure that AFM denizens are aware of those market films with public screenings at the festival.

Buyers seem pleased to at least have the fest screening option. “I’ve always felt a missing component at AFM,” says Picturehouse head Bob Berney, “was that screenings got to be so arid, and having even just one screening with a genuine audience can be enormously beneficial, especially if you’re a prospective buyer.” Picturehouse’s “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story” unspools at AFI Fest this year.

But the beach-town schlep continues to be problematic. “The physical distance between AFI and AFM venues remains a big obstacle, despite the excellent efforts taken by the organizers to coordinate and tie the two events together,” says Fred Tsui of H.K.-based Media Asia Films. Tsui says he’s sure that many will take advantage of the new private transport, though he’s not planning to stay after the market to try out the new hotel deal between AFM and AFI — a discounted rate at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel during the post-AFM days of Nov. 10-13.

AFI Fest topper Christian Gaines admits that in Berlin or Cannes marketgoers can interact with the affiliated festival on a daily basis, “which may not be practical here. But if a sales agent can experience the festival two to four times during the festival, that’s a real success for us.”

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