'Guantanamo' among hot sellers at EFM

The Berlinale drew not only filmmakers from all corners of the world, and film execs in greater numbers than ever to attend the expanded European Film Market; but also artists, rock stars, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, celebrity chefs, ex-spies and three former guests of the U.S. Marine Corps at Guantanamo Bay.

Activity at the Berlinale’s European Film Market (EFM) was just as lively, even though U.S. acquisitions execs found little new or to their taste.

Michael Winterbottom’s “The Road to Guantanamo” was one of the hottest selling titles at the EFM, proving that the arrival of the big companies with their mainstream genre movies has not yet overwhelmed the market’s core identity as a platform for quality arthouse fare.

Summit all but sold out its German-made, English-language thriller “Adrift,” and Lionsgate reported boffo biz on actioner “Rogue.” But foreign distribs also vacuumed up Competition titles such as Robert Altman’s “A Prairie Home Companion” and Germany’s “Elementary Particles.”

Arguably the biggest buyers were Japanese distribs who paid serious money for top titles.

Some $4 million is what Wise Policy reportedly paid for Mandate’s uncast remake of Korean hit “My Sassy Girl.” The bid battle for hit Korean morality play “The King and the Clown,” repped by CJ Ent., pushed the asking price above $2 million.

Buyers complained, as they always will, about a shortage of hot new scripts or obviously commercial finished movies, either in the fest or the market. Yet a significant volume of deals got done anyhow and the mood of most attendees was upbeat.

North America was the exception, with headline-making deals in short supply compared with last month’s Sundance fest.

But Japanese distribs were more upbeat, notably for anything with a music theme.

Movie Eye pre-bought TF1’s Edith Piaf biopic; Presidio was turned on by “Sexual Healing,” a dramatization of Marvin Gaye’s life, from Arclight; Gaga grabbed Brazil’s “Two Sons of Francisco” and Avex acquired Icelandic music doc “Screaming Masterpiece.”

German distribs of all sizes were also in a more acquisitive mood than at recent sales events.

Video distrib Splendid bought half a dozen titles. Kinowelt, Telepool, Concorde and Constantin all opened their pocketbooks during Berlin or made pre-emptive moves just before.

Perhaps the mood had something to do with the EFM’s magnificent new home in the Martin Gropius Bau.

This 19th century, mock-Renaissance museum, with its soaring ceilings and vast windows, was an uplifting contrast not only to the old cramped digs in a modern office block, but also to Santa Monica’s dreary Loews Hotel, the unlamented Fiera di Milano and the gaudy Croisette.

Indeed, only the most philistine of visitors could remain impervious to the energy that the fest and market alike derive from unspooling in the heart of a city etched by the great events of the past 100 years and now reinventing itself in constantly surprising ways.

“This is such a cosmopolitan, diverse city, full of hip young people, and you get to go and enjoy that as well as doing business,” said Pascal Borno of L.A.-based sales outfit Consquistador.

“It’s really gratifying to see all these Hollywood folks come here and make this a really effective European film market. Last year was the first foray, this year it’s an invasion, and it bodes really well for the export of all independent films, not just American ones but also Brazilian and Australian and German films.”

Borno was one of many sellers, predominantly American and British, who didn’t take stands in the Gropius, but sold out of rooms in the Ritz Carlton or the Grand Hyatt instead. That was the biggest logistical gripe for the buyers, who had to take the efficient shuttle buses or a five-minute walk in the snow between the locations.

Although the sellers in the Gropius mostly praised the building, those that stayed away had no regrets. “I was fantastically thrilled not to be in the Gropius,” said Summit’s David Garrett, succinctly.

Given the expense of taking stands, the few big Anglo-American sellers that did so are already thinking hard about whether to use hotel suites next year. The Hyatt, for example, is already being flooded with booking requests for the 2007 event.

But with demand for stands greatly exceeding supply this year, market topper Beki Probst can afford to be sanguine.

“Last November, we had a waiting list of 90 companies,” she told Variety. That’s why the EFM decided to open an overspill space in an office block two minutes away from the Gropius.

“We never pretended to replace Mifed or the AFM,” Probst added. “The people who come here are going to decide what kind of market it is.”

“Only a month before the market started, we realized, oh God, it’s really getting big,” fest’s Dieter Kosslick explained. “So we have to sit down afterward and look at how it worked. But we will not hinder anybody who wants to come here.”

While Probst will spend the next months working on improvements to the Gropius facility, choice of venue is likely to remain a question of corporate style. Sales outfits that rely on foot traffic will likely stick to the Gropius. Heavyweight indies repping titles with A-list stars can afford to stay off-site in the hotel suites, safe in the knowledge that buyers will find them.

(Patrick Frater contributed to this report.)

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