But the business is still contracting

The good news: This year’s Berlin film festival and European Film Market signalled a turnaround for international sales, with sellers able to get their asking prices, or even exceed it.

The not-so-good news: The business is still contracting.

Following a robust Sundance, the deals — some even big — continued to flow as buyers were in need of product.

“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 intl. sales.

“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.”

But the biggest activity centered around an ever more limited number of companies, such as Summit, IM Global and Icon, which scored big with buyer-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.

Even European sales agents and buyers are saying that English-language, mainstream pics are the way to go to keep paying the bills.

Studiocanal found interest in the Eli Roth-produced horror pic “The Last Exorcism,” which scored a domestic distribution deal with Lionsgate early on in Berlin. Even arthouse doyenne Fortissimo Films is moving more mainstream, part of a strategic move by co-chairman Michael J. Werner to ramp up the number of English-language projects the company handles. Fortissimo picked up worldwide rights on Brit helmer Michael Winterbottom’s “The Promised Land,” with a cast including Colin Firth and Jim Sturgess.

Julie Delpy’s upcoming production “2 Days in New York” sold 75% of the world, said Rezo’s Sebastien Chesneau.

“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,” said Werner.

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

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. Their first project will be “Waiting For Azrael,” the sophomore directorial effort of Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud (“Persepolis”).

Underscoring Berlin’s prominence as a production center, 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.

Overall, there was a definite sense that the market was going to get better, even for arthouse shingles.

“EFM seems to have recovered from last year’s recession,” said M-Appeal’s managing director Nadjah Jumah. “It has been a healthier market for us in terms of buyers being optimistic about the future of quality arthouse films and willing to walk on paths beyond mainstream cinema again.”

IM Global also struck a deal with Indian media conglom Reliance Big Pictures to handle international sales on its slate, beginning with big Bollywood titles “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.

Elsa Keslassy, Ed Meza and Nick Holdsworth contributed to this report.

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