Attendees puff up LUFF

Brit export market a shot in arm for down local biz

LONDON — The curtain fell Thursday on the seventh London U.K. Film Focus, the busiest edition of the Brit export market to date.

The invitation-only event, which according to organizers was oversubscribed, brought in 120 international buyers to talk biz and see 47 pics screening at the intimate four-day mart. Pics up for grabs included Salt’s “Cherry Tree Lane,” helmed by Paul Andrew Williams, and Noel Clarke starrer “Huge” from Ben Miller.

This year, LUFF spiced up the menu by allowing five international pics from U.K. sales agents and a handful of Brit pics from foreign agents to screen at the event.

“LUFF is such a relaxed way to meet some of the key buyers,” said Sarah Townsend, head of marketing at Independent Film Co., which screened “Third Star” and “Mr. Nice.” “It offers a more civilized atmosphere for buyers that we may not have had a chance to see in the chaos of Cannes.”

Considering morale in the U.K. film industry has dipped after government cuts to the British Film Institute and the U.K. Film Council, LUFF offered a bastion of hope to key buyers and sellers.

“Having something that is only about British films is what we need for our business,” said Adrian Wootton, CEO of Film London, which funds LUFF with the U.K. Film Council. “Considering the tough economic climate and a whole backdrop of things that you think would make it tougher to attract the delegates, this year was the largest event we’ve ever had.”

And for such an active event, it’s not a very expensive one: LUFF costs £180,000 ($272,000) to stage, of which 75%-80% comes from public funding. Sales agents’ screening fees plug the gap while discounts in kind from the BFI, which hosts the event at its London’t headquarters on the Thames South Bank, seal the deal.

Bankside Films’ Stephen Kelliher said the quintessentially Brit mart is one of the most important of the year.

“It’s the only event in a very busy year where the focus is truly on British sales companies and British films,” he said. “Regardless of it being a market or not, whether a lot of business is done or a little business is done, it’s so important to be able to spend time with people in a relaxed environment.”

And business is done at LUFF. While it’s too early to tell how much ink was signed at this year’s event, last year’s LUFF generated around $4 million of sales over three days with fewer buyers.

Gary Philips, managing director of Moviehouse Entertainment, which screened three pics including Ipso Facto’s “SoulBoy,” said the event was key to follow up Cannes deals or show smaller pics that wouldn’t fit in the Toronto or Venice fests.

“For certain films, the timing of LUFF is perfect,” he said. “In Cannes, there’s so much going on and buyers may not get a chance to see your movie. Here, they get that chance and it means we don’t have to wait until the AFM in the fall to screen our film again.”

At last year’s LUFF, Moviehouse screened footage of gritty East London-set “Baseline,” which was picked up by Optimum Releasing for the U.K.

This year, Helena Mackenzie, head of inward investment and business development at Film London, said while the event’s injection of international pics offered a fresh approach, she would make sure the event stayed essentially British and put a cap of five pics each for international pics offered from Brit agents and Brit pics from foreign agents.

“We’re only going to do it if there’s a requirement to do so and it helps the program,” she said. “This is predominantly and always will be a British film event and we don’t want it to be anything else. We don’t want to lose our way.”

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