When member companies of the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA) voted a while back to move February’s American Film Market (AFM) to November, it was with the intention to collapse the annual film market calendar down to two official confabs instead of three. Milan’s Mifed, also held in November, would effectively be wiped off the sked.
Mifed might be gone, but as AFM preps its second November edition, it seems at least two more bona fide markets have sprouted.
“I voted to move AFM to November and the idea was to have two markets,” says Myriad topper Kirk D’Amico. “Instead, we now have four.”
D’Amico is talking about Toronto and Berlin, two film festivals that have seen more business activity as a result of AFM’s switch.
Despite its efforts to discourage a formal biz component, September’s Toronto Intl. Film Festival has become a de-facto market.
“We actually worked in Toronto; that was strange,” quips New Line worldwide distribution and marketing chief Rolf Mittweg, referring to his company’s expanded activities at the festival this year.
Aside from supporting fest entry “A History of Violence,” Mittweg and New Line Intl. prexy Cam Galano met with their distribs from around the world — mainly because so many of them were in Toronto — handing them scripts and setting up business in advance of AFM.
“We were averaging seven to eight meetings a day,” adds D’Amico. “For us, Toronto has never been this focused before. We were setting it up in advance. We had a widescreen in the suite and got our promos ready. It’s a market — but not yet like the AFM.”
Edward Noeltner, who heads international sales outfit Cinema Management Group, even screened his recent acquisition, horror pic “Reeker,” outside of the festival. He closed deals for the title in 10 territories, among other business.
“There was that whole polemic about ‘Should sales companies only sell their movies when they are part of a festival’s selection?’ ” he says. “But I had a finished picture that was ready to go. It had screened at Tribeca (in April). … I thought why wait until November (for AFM) when people’s acquisitions budgets are down to their last 20%.”
All the activity in Toronto contributes evidence to the notion that the international pic biz is healthy again.
“There seems to be a real sense of optimism by and large,” says Mandate Pictures prexy Joe Drake. “There’s a healthy distribution community today versus a few years ago. You have multiple buyers that are hungry for product, are well capitalized and are growing their businesses.”
The supply side seems equally vibrant. This year’s AFM has sold out, and then some. To accommodate a 15% increase in demand for exhibition space over last year, the market has expanded well beyond its traditional Santa Monica Loews Hotel hub, adding a second floor at neighboring Le Merigot.
“It’s the earliest we’ve ever sold out the market, and it’s only the second time we’re having it November,” notes IFTA board member Mark Lindsay, who recently became prexy of Kimmel Intl., the sales arm of Sidney Kimmel Entertainment. “The new date seems to be working for people. I think you’ll also see a record number of buyers at the market.”
While buyers continue to sign up for the Nov. 2-9 gathering, AFM organizers announced Sept. 20 that they’ve registered 410 exhibitors from 33 countries for this year’s edition. They also see first-time exhibitors from some 24 countries.
“It’s clear that the global independent film industry is healthy and growing,” says Jonathan Wolf, AFM’s managing director and exec VP of IFTA.
And if there’s business to be done, sales agents note that they must make sure to be where their clients are — not merely at dedicated markets such as AFM and Cannes’ Marche du Film, but increasingly at film festivals where business activities are on the rise.
This year that meant taking Berlin and Toronto more seriously. At the Canuck fest, the larger-than-usual contingents from Europe and Japan were joined by more buyers from Latin America, Russia and Australia. Giulia Filippelli, who heads up Toronto’s Sales Office, confirms that of the 1,200 industryites from 49 countries who registered with her, between 800 and 900 were buyers.
Foreign buyers also have started flocking to festivals such as the more American-product-focused Sundance, held in January.
New Line’s Mittweg notes that high-profile fests appeal to these buyers because they can often pick up titles directly from the producers versus having to go through international sales agents. “It can be more cost-effective and they can see a film with a real audience.”
But as these festivals start to grow official or unofficial market appendages, that too is likely to change.
Neatly timed between AFM and Cannes, the Berlinale is becoming more heavily populated by the larger American sales companies. The festival’s market component, the European Film Market, used to be a very local affair, but it got a big boost this year when several U.S. sellers decided to set up shop.
Mandate’s Drake took his sales team to Berlin for the first time in February. “I had never been to Berlin before,” he admits. “We took an office in the Ritz, a big suite, and ran it like a market. We actually had the best market we’ve had in three years. There were major European buyers, and the Japanese were there looking to buy stuff. We hadn’t seen people since the fall, and we had new projects to launch.”
Mandate made a number of major territory presales on horror-thrillers such as the Pang Brothers’ “The Messenger” and Sebastian Gutierrez’s “Rise.”
Many sales agents see an advantage in the synergistic potential of a festival-and-market combo like Berlin and Cannes. It’s part of the reason why AFM moved to November and linked with the AFI Fest. But they also note that the distance between Santa Monica-based AFM and Hollywood-based AFI Fest, which runs nearly concurrently with the market, is a problem.
AFM organizers are doing their best to bridge that gap. “We’re going to co-locate and provide transportation,” says Wolf.
Shuttles will run on the hour between the two venues for the duration of the market, as they did last year. There will be informational hubs at both locations as well as special events to make participants from each gathering feel at home at the other. A brunch is planned at AFM for AFI filmmakers, who also receive full credentials to enter the market. And, among other things, AFI provides festival badges and extra screening tickets to help sellers support their titles at the fest.
This year, 45 AFM titles will be shown at AFI Fest, including Theo van Gogh’s “06/05 The Sixth of May” and Tommy Lee Jones’ “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.”