U.K. buyers lead mixed mart

The U.K. has emerged as one of the most competitive acquisitions territories at the European Film Market, which is otherwise earning mixed reviews from sellers and buyers alike.

Conquistador Entertainment has sold its Werner Herzog movie “Rescue Dawn” to Pathe UK, which has also picked up “Adrift” from Summit and U.S. crime drama “The Air I Breathe” from Inferno.

“Adrift,” which had its premiere Friday in the EFM, is one of the market’s hottest titles. On Pictures has bought the pic for Spain, with deals also reportedly closed in Japan, Italy, France, Australia and Scandinavia.

Summit is also doing roaring trade with the next untitled Mike Leigh movie. Despite a hefty pricetag and the TV rights already tied up by Channel 4, U.K. buyers are buzzing around, with Momentum in pole position to seal the deal.

Momentum is proving to be one of the most aggressive British buyers. It has reportedly picked up German Competition entry “Elementary Particles” from Celluloid Dreams; the Salma Hayek/Penelope Cruz starrer “Bandidas” from EuropaCorp; “You Are So Handsome” from Gaumont; and “The Banquet,” starring Zhang Ziyi, from Media Asia, which it also bought for Spain.

Optimum Releasing has acquired U.K. rights to Gallic Arctic doc “White Planet” from Bac, and Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” and soccer doc “Maradona” from Wild Bunch.

Icon has acquired “Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” from Mandate and “Awake” from the Weinstein Co.

Conquistador has also closed a slew of deals in other territories on Herzog’s “Rescue Dawn,” starring Christian Bale as a U.S. Navy lieutenant who escapes from a POW camp in Laos.

Pic, currently in post, has sold to Art Media Finance in Benelux, Nordisk in Scandinavia, California Filmes in Brazil, Lusomundo in Portugal, Eagle Films in the Middle East, PR Amero Mitra in Indonesia, Jiant Pictures in Thailand and Pioneer Films in the Philippines.

Business at the EFM looks set to peak over the next couple of days, with the bulk of buyers heading out of Berlin by Tuesday night.

“It’s not a question of anyone ‘leaving early,’ ” said HanWay topper Tim Haslam. “If anyone thought it would be a nine-day market, they were dreaming. Markets only take four to five days.”

Nonetheless, the mass exit of buyers could pose a challenge for sales outfits whose films are premiering in the fest toward the end of the week.

Fortissimo, for example, has been bombarded by buyer demands for a sneak peak at its Heath Ledger competish entry “Candy,” which world preems on Wednesday, but the company has refused all requests.

Overall, however, sellers seem broadly satisfied both with the EFM’s aesthetically pleasing new home and with the way the expanded market is meshing with the festival.

HanWay’s Haslam is fulsome in his praise for the EFM and the Berlin experience in general.

“It’s well organized, efficient, the Internet works, the phones work, you can always get taxis, and it’s a cheap city,” he enthused. “You can take five people out to dinner for 150 Euros with good food and good drink. You couldn’t do that in London or Cannes.”

Ralph Kamp of Odyssey Entertainment, here pre-selling “Dark Crystal” and “Fade to Black” out of a Hyatt hotel suite, said, “It’s well organized, practical and a lot less stressful and more cost-effective than Cannes.”

“Last year we were selling from the lobby of the Hyatt; this year we took rooms and we’ll certainly do it again next year.”

Although the companies that took stands in the Martin Gropius Bau were mostly positive about the experience, some of the big mainstream sellers privately expressed doubts that they would bother to take stands next year.

Focus has one of the largest spaces, but it’s perhaps significant that topper Alison Thompson is doing most of her meetings at the hotels.

Those companies, such as Summit and Odyssey, that chose to base themselves at the Hyatt or the Ritz Carlton expressed no regrets about avoiding the Gropius.

Buyers, however, always like to gripe.

Guy Shani of Israel’s Shani Films, said, “Among the finished market titles, it’s pretty disappointing. For buyers I can never remember the Competition films being so bad. Simply appalling.”

The large contingent of U.S. buyers in Berlin had certainly found little to write home about by Sunday, although some were running the rule over “Elementary Particles.”

One U.S. exec described Berlin as good for meetings on future projects, but bad for finished films.

Asian sellers, who have had a big impact at previous Berlin marts, have also been going through a quiet time.

In most cases, new finished product will not be ready until next month’s Hong Kong FilMart or, more likely, Cannes.

But CJ Entertainment’s Korean B.O. smash “The King and the Clown” is brewing a bidding war for Japanese rights, despite being light on the sort of established Korean TV stars that are usually necessary for a Japanese sale.

On the plus side, many sellers report a recovering German market.

StudioCanal’s sales VP John Kochman commented: “Germany is coming back well. Spain is still in the doldrums because of the TV sector, Russia is still going through the roof, and for sales agents Korea is dead.”

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