Market, AFI Fest endure distance

Orgs' partnership boosts the profile of both

At Cannes, the film festival and market are indistinguishable from one another on the crowded Croisette. In Berlin, all that separates the winter film fest and market is a 10-minute walk — albeit a chilly one.

When it comes to successful market/fest combos, it’s all about location, location, location.

Maybe that’s why it’s hard to think of the American Film Market and AFI Fest as twinned events. Santa Monica, home of AFM, and Hollywood, where the AFI Fest is headquartered, aren’t more than 15 miles from each other, but psychologically, the distance is enormous (and a traffic nightmare).

Organizers of AFM and AFI Fest insist their marriage — now in its third year — is working, and that the partnership boosts the profile of both. They tout the AFM/AFI Fest combo as the largest gathering of film industry professionals in North America. Attendance this year is expected to exceed the 9,000 who hit AFM and AFI in 2005.

But most exhibs and buyers say they still view the AFM and AFI Fest as two distinct happenings. That’s not to say that they haven’t begun to see the benefits.

“It’s difficult, although I did attend a party at AFI last year where I saw other people from AFM, so people do venture out. They are separate events,” one sales agent says, “but the way I see it, any buzz is good, wherever it comes from.”

Film markets are decidedly unsexy; all the glam is usually associated with festivals, where red carpets, filmmaker Q&As and press attention are the order of the day. So a pic that’s being sold at a market can get more exposure when unspooling at an accompanying festival. This year, a record 54 films that are official AFI Fest selections will also be repped at AFM, up from 45 last year and 37 the first year.

“AFI helps provide a marketing platform for films that might get lost at AFM,” says Independent Film & Television Alliance exec VP and AFM managing director Jonathan Wolf. “When a buyer comes to AFM and sees that a film screening at the market has been curated (by also playing as an AFI Fest selection), he might be more inclined to check it out.”

AFI Fest director Christian Gaines says it’s a “marriage of culture and commerce.” He adds that the two orgs are hardly the first to contend with the sprawling nature of Los Angeles, and the accompanying headaches.

Media 8’s senior VP of worldwide distribution Liz Mackiewicz will be selling “Air Guitar Nation” at AFM and screening it twice at AFI Fest. She says buyers would always prefer to see a film with a general audience, and AFI provides that opportunity.

“I’m certainly going to let my buyers know it’s screening at AFI. It just gives the film more attention,” she says. “I see AFI as added value. I think it will just take time for people to get used to the idea.”

Another film making an appearance at both venues is “Secret Life of Happy People,” from Montreal’s Max Films Intl., which has had several movies playing at both AFM and AFI. Max Films racked up sales at AFM for “Far Side of the Moon” after the pic played at the fest in 2004.

Max Films topper Roger Frappier says AFM and AFI could become an event on the scale of Cannes or Berlin. “For a buyer, a film has a real existence when playing before an audience. That’s why Cannes is so great,” he notes.

At the same time, Frappier is all too familiar with the “distance” issue.

“From Santa Monica to Hollywood takes an hour by car. Because of the distance, we have to work hard to bring the buyers to the AFI Fest,” he says.

AFM and AFI organizers point out that most of the market takes place during the day, while the film fest, headquartered at the ArcLight, unfolds at night.

They’ve also introduced perks to encourage AFMers to attend both events. Market exhibitors and others can sign up for a slot on the AFM Priority List, which gives them low-cost access to hotels, rental cars, tickets and galas. Priority list members also will have a car service available to them.

Those with AFM badges can ride the shuttle running between Santa Monica and the ArcLight in Hollywood. They also will have access to the fest’s rooftop lounge.

“Our biggest challenge is one of perception,” Gaines says, adding that AFI and AFM newcomers have a far easier time accepting the notion, versus people who are more set in their ways. “Those are tough people to reach in any environment.”

In an ideal world, AFM and AFI would take place in the same ‘hood. AFM, however, is contracted to remain in Santa Monica through 2008. And Wolf says there simply isn’t the hotel and conference space in Hollywood that’s required for AFM, which calls for 2,500 hotel rooms and 250,000 square feet of exhibit space.

“We’re always open to change, but the resources aren’t there yet in Hollywood and aren’t forecast to be there,” says Wolf.

(Sharon Swart contributed to this story.)

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