Sellers spy upturn

Leading sales reps say biz set to boom at EFM

Berlin’s European Film Market now stands center stage in the first quarter of the film market year, following the American Film Market’s migration to a November berth in 2004. This has driven up attendance by half, from 120 exhibitors in 2002 to 240 in 2006, prompting a move to larger premises, the Martin Gropius Bau, this year. International sales executives have high hopes for the event.

“It’s a fully fledged third market of the year for everyone. I don’t approach it any differently than Cannes or AFM,” says Glen Basner, international prexy at the Weinstein Co.

Myriad prexy Kirk D’Amico agrees: “There will be an onslaught of market screenings this year, and it will be interesting to see how that develops alongside the festival. Cannes as a festival has become very political and esoteric, and AFM lacks a festival buzz, so that really leaves the door open for Berlin.”

European sales execs are equally supportive. “I’ve always believed in having three markets a year, and having an A-list festival like Berlin combined with an efficient market is really ideal,” says Hanway topper Tim Haslam.

Capitol’s head of sales Simon Crowe adds, “We’re working on the premise that a lot more buyers, especially from the Far East and Latin America, will turn up this year, and we expect a lot of meetings.”

“There will simply be more business for more people, and I expect that positions will be taken more quickly,” says Fortissimo topper Wouter Barendrecht, who already noticed during AFM that people were getting ready for a busy Berlin. “The AFM was more like a cleanup market from Cannes and Toronto.”

Ann Katrin Westerberg, senior veepee at Svensk Filmindustri, says Berlin is the place to go for buyers looking for new product. “People are getting hyped up about Berlin because the next market is so far away.”

It seems inevitable, then, that Berlin will become a lot more hard-sell than it used to be.

“Traditionally, it’s been a very relaxed, soft-sell market, with executive decisions being made elsewhere,” says Berlin veteran Ehud Bleiberg. “With the attendance of more high-level U.S. execs, that’s likely to change.”

The attendance of U.S. buyers with the authority to close deals will be crucial, especially for non-European sellers, if the EFM is to be the success everyone hopes it will be.

“Berlin has always been good for European buyers, but what will make a real difference is if there are more U.S. buyers attending. That will be the real test for us,” says Masaki Koga, Shochiku’s head of international.

Haslam, like many of his colleagues, has no doubt that U.S. buyers will come out in full force. “They have to go where the product is,” Haslam says.

But Wild Bunch’s head of sales Vincent Maraval warns: “The festival has to smarten up its selection, and they need to show hot films that are available to buyers. That’s what Cannes, Toronto and Sundance do, and that’s how you get a market going.”

Maraval’s misgivings might have something to do with the fact that last year the festival rejected his pic “March of the Penguins,” but amid all the enthusiasm there is a whiff of uncertainty in the air.

“The jury is out, and we’re excited to see what it’s going to be like,” says John Kochman, veepee of international sales at StudioCanal.

Becker Films prexy Reiko Bradley adds: “All of a sudden Berlin has been thrust into the market spotlight, and we’ll have to see how they’re coping, but I don’t think there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind that it’s going to be a major market.”

Thorsten Schaumann, head of sales at Bavaria Intl., sums up the views of most sellers when he says, “Berlin is developing not only as a city but also as a market. It’s developing a distinct profile, and it’s exciting to be part of that.”

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