Int'l pix pique interest

As the 27th American Film Market kicks off today in Santa Monica, even hardened vets are realizing that the past 26 years’ experience will not provide any easy answers about what global audiences want.

Buyers and sellers of films are weighing info that appears contradictory as the international marketplace becomes increasingly fragmented. In this past year, pics have been going gangbusters in some territories but dying in others.

A slew of internationally produced mid-budgeted pics have failed in the past. But one of the current hits at the global box office is just such a film — “Perfume,” a sensation in Germany, France and a handful of other territories.

While foreign films rarely translate in the States, they continue to cut into Hollywood market share abroad and should prove to be hot commodities at AFM.

After six weeks in release in Germany, “Perfume” has hit $42.7 million for Constantin and remains in the top three.

Also playing well in France — where local distribs account for 44% of the market is local war pic “Indigenes,” from Mars. Still No. 1 after a month in release, it’s taken in $17.1 million.

Other international titles that have stolen thunder from American product have included Spain’s “Torrente 3″ and France’s “Les Bronzes 3: Friends Forever.”

And though some film execs had declared that U.S. remakes of foreign films were passe, “The Departed” and “The Grudge 2″ are doing great biz at the domestic box office.

So while the data seems more confusing than ever, a few rules still apply in the corridors of the Loews Hotel. Horror, as usual, will be hot after the recent success of “Grudge 2″ and “Saw III.” So will pics with international hooks in their stars or plots. Producers of even the most mainstream Hollywood films have been increasingly conscious of making product more internationally friendly — a trend the indies have known for years.

Pics playing well abroad this year — from “The Da Vinci Code” to “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” and “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” — have included a mix of homegrown and foreign talent or themes, whereas product tagged as “too American” has had some auds abroad turning up their noses.

But other AFM “conventional wisdom” is being thrown out the window. A recognizable Hollywood name is no longer enough to lure overseas buyers.

U.S. buyers, meanwhile, will be focusing intently behind-the-scenes on promo reels of upcoming titles to gauge what they’ll be screening at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival early next year.

“The market is as unpredictable as it has been for the last few years,” said Richard Guardian of sales banner Lightning Entertainment. “Aside from a mass market film like ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ there are far fewer indie films that will work everywhere than there used to be. (Their perfs) now vary enormously and have become very specific to the culture of a certain territory.”

At AFM this year, Lightning is repping such pics as the Toni Collette starrer “Hey, Hey, It’s Esther Blueburger,” faith-based “Conversation With God” and the new docu “Screamers.”

Last year at AFM, the Weinstein Co. snapped up North American distribution rights to the second and third pics in the “Infernal Affairs” series but not remake rights.

“You are seeing competition come out of other territories,” said Mark Lindsay, prexy of Sidney Kimmel Entertainment’s international sales arm. “They can make these local productions and own them in perpetuity.”

Exec — who will be repping pics including the Frank Oz-helmed “Death at a Funeral,” helmer Kasi Lemmons’ latest project and Billy Ray’s “Breach” — added that star-driven fare is not as surefire with foreign buyers as it once was.

“Some star-driven vehicles have been some of the biggest disappointments for (foreign distributors),” another exec said.

While domestic pics set to screen footage during AFM will include Renee Zellweger vehicle “Miss Potter,” foreign fare said to be generating heat among international buyers includes Mexican horror pic “KM.31,” Korean actioner “D-War” and Japanese frightfest “Exte.”

And while product screening will be scrutinized, so will the promo reels playing behind closed doors.

“This is the only chance before Sundance when you can get a jump on what’s in post-production, and some of that product will definitely be at Sundance,” said Arianna Bocco, who recently ankled the Gersh Agency in Gotham to join IFC Films as veep of acquisitions and production. “It’s the last market of the year to see what’s going into production, too.”

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