Business in Berlin: Ready, set, go?

Just as the Berlin Fest goes through a daily cycle of snow, slush and refreezing, so it seems that another familiar pattern may be resurfacing at the Berlin Market — the revenge of Mifed.

Some folks attending the market here are muttering that the American Film Market should have stayed put where it was in February and that a Mifed in November wasn’t so bad after all.

Per the pro-Mifed contingent: Moving AFM from February to November created a gap in the calendar that has been filled by Berlin snowdrifts and the European arthouse crowd. And, in any case, all the deals in major territories have already been done elsewhere.

Some others disagree.

They point out that the quality, availability and price of movies have an influence on the level of business. It’s not just physical location and timing.

In addition, they say, the February AFM argument also seems to forget that that month can be unpleasant in February in Los Angeles as well — and it ignores the gripes about Milanese organization and facilities.

Leaving aside this eternal debate, no one here is pretending that business in Berlin is bustling. “There’s little new product here. I’ve been offered the same films at three markets now,” Alvaro Zapata, prexy of new Spanish distribber A Zeta, said.

“The problem is not just no new films, there are very few new projects on offer here,” said another.

Biggest exceptions to that have been “Red Cliff,” the expensive John Woo project that Summit is selling from the Hyatt. Summit chief Patrick Wachsberger is said to be so busy he’s sleeping in his Hyatt office suite. Other hot project is the inflammatory Morgan Spurlock pic being handled by France’s Wild Bunch, which itself is an inflammatory company.

Wild Bunch is defiantly facing down Market organizers by operating from a trailer opposite the Martin Gropius Bau (the EFM’s main building). Harvey Weinstein has already acquired the Osama Bin Laden comedy.

By day four the festival movies still had failed to have much of an impact on the sales market.

Berlinale opener “La Vie en Rose” was widely sold beforehand by TF1, while CJ Entertainment’s fantasy “I’m a Cyborg, but That’s OK,” irked many potential buyers. Its whimsy is far removed from the visceral actioners with which helmer Park Chan-wook made his name.

One established French buyer, whose acquisitions normally span the range from commercial to arty, said that Focus and the Weinstein Co. had the most interesting slates. Most other sellers were telling him that they have rights “available,” meaning they’ve gone begging.

The dearth of completed deals in the first four days of the Berlin Market — in contrast with the silly money sales struck at Sundance — has stoked the ire of some American sellers.

Others feel differently.

“Berlin is fundamentally important to what we do,” Fortissimo co-chief Wouter Barendrecht said. “All the Europeans are here and Berlin has a full contingent of Japanese buyers.”

“Ask me if I regret being here: absolutely not,” Gilbert Lim, head of Sahamongkolfilm Intl., said. “Even though my slate is not particularly fresh and I haven’t been particularly busy.”

Others see the EFM deals go-slow as typical of the transformation all entertainment trade shows are undergoing.

“Berlin is increasingly becoming like Cannes. It’s becoming as much about financing as sales, with a large festival in the background,” Simon de Santiago, head of production at Spain’s Sogecine-Sogepaq, said.

As Berlin has gotten bigger it has become more like other places, too. Witness the bursting cafes and restaurants at the Ritz Carlton and Marriott hotels — just like those in Los Angeles, London and Cannes.

Without compelling reasons to remain fully alert, fatigue is setting in early for those buyers and sellers who struggled in from Sundance or Rotterdam.

Many Brits left over the weekend to be home in time for Sunday night’s BAFTA ceremony. Some promised to return swiftly.

Promises, promises.

(John Hopewell, Alison James and Adam Dawtrey contributed to this story.)

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