Wintry Berlin fest warms up

Fewer buyers and titles help move EFM

Festgoers may have endured some particularly frosty Berlin weather this year, but the international sales market is showing encouraging signs of warming up.

Following a robust Sundance, the deals — some even big — continued to flow throughout the EFM.

The downside to that is that business seems to be contracting around an ever more limited number of companies, such as Summit, IM Global and Icon, which scored big with market-friendly fare like Tom Hanks-Julia Roberts comedy “Larry Crowne” (with Vendome fully financing), horror pic “Insidious” and Mel Gibson starrer “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” respectively.

Elsewhere, classy, upscale genre pics from top European vendors such as StudioCanal found good business was available for reasonably priced commercially viable titles like Eli Roth-produced “The Last Exorcism” (aka “Cotton”).

That pic, which scored a domestic distribution deal with Lionsgate early on in Berlin, underscored what many sales agents and buyers are saying — namely that English-language, mainstream pics are the way to keep paying the bills.

Even arthouse doyenne Fortissimo Films is moving toward the center. For the first time in recent years, the Dutch and Hong Kong-based sales, finance and production entity had no films in competition. That is part of a strategic move by co-chairman Michael J. Werner to ramp up the number of English-language pics the company handles.

For example, Fortissimo picked up worldwide rights on Brit helmer Michael Winterbottom’s “The Promised Land.” Project, which looks at extremist Jewish gangs in the months leading up to the partition of Palestine and establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, has a cast that includes Colin Firth and Jim Sturgess.

“There isn’t a lot of depth in the market, even though there is positive business to do,” Werner said. “You need a hot title to get people to come in. The market is uneven and fractured but if you have a good project you can sell it.”

While business was solid — in some cases strong — there was less product and fewer buyers, so media consolidation is inevitable.

In the biggest Berlinale move, Hengameh Panahi’s Celluloid Dreams and Germany’s Studio Babelsberg and Clou Partners announced the formation of production joint venture TheManipulators. Its first project will be “Waiting for Azrael,” the sophomore directorial effort of Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud (“Persepolis”).

Further underscoring Berlin’s role as, with Paris, continental Europe’s movie capital, Pinewood Studios and Studio Hamburg formed a joint venture — Pinewood Studio Berlin Film Services — that will provide international producers with access to the studios’ facilities in Germany and the U.K. as well as to Germany’s generous federal and regional funders.

A clutch of foreign films did roll out Berlinale business. Rezo sold 75% of the world on Julie Delpy’s “2 Days in New York,” said Sebastien Chesneau, head of international sales.

Along with English-lingo “The Woman in the Fifth,” from Pawel Pawlikowski, Memento Films Intl. reported strong sales on Argentine pic “Puzzle.”

Pathe Intl. struck a muscular sale for Germany with Prokino on “Nothing to Declare,” from Dany Boon (“Welcome to the Sticks”) and was tying down other sales by market close.Other upbeat European sales company items included Pyramide’s “Cosa voglio di piu,” from Silvio Soldini, Filmax Intl.’s period thriller “Agnosia,” and Wide Management’s “Two in the Wave” and “From Beginning to End.”

Irina Ignatiew, exec VP international at Telepool, described this year’s EFM as very successful. “There was a definite easing of tension in the market,” she said.

Among Telepool’s hot sellers were Feo Aladag’s Turkish-German drama “Die fremde,” Urs Odermatt’s “Mein kampf” and Anno Saul’s “The Door.”

Eastern European titles also sold at a more buoyant market.

Berlin-based M-Appeal licensed Bulgarian director Stephan Komandarev’s “The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner” to Kino Bez Granits for Russia and former Soviet territories; Andrzej Jakimowski’s “Tricks” to Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia; Damjan Kozole’s “Slovenian Girl” to Benelux and Taiwan; and Jan Kruger’s “Light Gradient” to France.

Laura Inoka, M-Appeal’s head of sales and acquisitions for Eastern Europe, said the market had been much busier this year than last.

Thomas Vinterberg’s competition title “Submarino,” the story of two troubled brothers haunted by a tragic childhood, racked up sales for Cologne-based Match Factory. Key territory sales included MK2 in France, Cinemien for Benelux, Mikado in Italy, Golem in Spain, Bitters End in Japan, Atom Cinema for Taiwan and Babilla for Colombia.

But “Submarino,” “Puzzle” and the Funny Balloons-sold “Mammuth” were among the few titles to translate a competition presence into sales.

Overall there was a definite sense that the market was going to get better, even if the size of the biz was destined to keep contracting.

“There are fewer players but those that are surviving the storm are doing well by being smart and targeting product with real upside. If you have what they’re after, buyers will be happy to pay the price, even more so now than 12 months ago,” said Harold Van Lier, StudioCanal exec VP international sales.

That may not be such a bad thing. With buyers in need of product, sellers were able to get their asking price — in some cases even exceeding it — with the right title.

“With ‘Insidious’ we had guys who had the ‘Saw’ franchise and others who had ‘Paranormal Activity’ bidding against each other, which drove the price up,” said IM Global topper Stuart Ford. “This has become very much a project-driven market.”

IM Global also struck a deal with Indian media conglom Reliance Big Pictures to handle international sales on its slate, beginning with Bollywood blockbuster “3 Idiots” and “Kites.”

The next phase could see IM Global handling international sales on Hollywood projects emanating from Reliance’s array of development silos with the likes of Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Hanks and Roberts.

If ever there was any doubt, this year’s Berlin confirmed the globalization of the film biz is here to stay and set to increase.

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