National film showcases cut through international-market clutter

As the international market gets tough, the tough get going — to markets like the Madrid de Cine-Spanish Film Screenings.

Dedicated showcases for national films are becoming increasingly popular with distributors evaluating the cost of doing business. In addition to June’s Madrid de Cine, they include January’s Unifrance Paris Rendez-Vous and late June’s London U.K. Film Focus.

At Madrid, distributors are flown in and lodged at the Melia Princesa Arguelles Hotel at the expense of the organizers: Spanish producer’s association FAPAE, Spain’s Icaa film institute and the PromoMadrid promotion board.

Kicking off June 20, the three-day mart holds morning screenings at Alta Film’s Princesa arthouse; Spain’s sales agents take foreign distributors through their slates during afternoons; journos interview the talent. Event wraps with a plush final-night party.

Execs say events such as Madrid de Cine are good for market dynamics in these tough times. “When you attend major festivals with markets, you don’t have much time to focus on any single national cinema,” says Jakub Duszynski of Poland’s Gutek Films. “Spanish cinema is interesting enough to be highlighted. Distributors need to attend focused events and immerse themselves in recent national output.”

Elba McAllister, at top Colombian indie distributor Cineplex, agrees. “I can’t see all the Spanish films at Berlin or Cannes. At Madrid de Cine, I can focus on what’s new.”

“The Paris, London and Madrid screenings are Europe’s top national cinema showcase events,” Duszynski says.

Although big film markets are increasingly becoming places where sales agents pitch rather than sell films, distributors still need to meet face to face — with sales agents and each other.

“There are synergies from being together. Buyers begin to ask each other what they’ve bought, what they’ve seen,” says Jose Ramon Ganchegui, Venevision Intl. acquisitions exec.

And deals do go down at Madrid de Cine. In 2009, Variety recorded 41 international sales, led by KWA’s 13-pic U.S. purchase by Venevision.

But the mini-mart also faces a challenge — shared by the Rendez-Vous and U.K. Focus: The screenings see few large world preems. Cannes steals much of that thunder.

Also, in an ever-contracting foreign-language film market where, given the slump in DVD and TV sales, buyers seek solidly theatrical properties, many films at the Spanish screenings simply lack the scale to spark mass sales.

But there can be genuine surprises. One of the stars in 2009, for example, was Arantxa Aguirre’s “Of Heart and Courage.”

It was not a Spanish genre pic of the kind so much sought after by buyers, but a moving documentary on the Lausanne Bejart Ballet.

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