Market leader: Beki Probst

EFM topper stays ahead of digital developments

As the European Film Market gears up for the year’s first major international movie bazaar of 2011, signs of the change in the industry are apparent.

This year, the EFM has increased the number of 3D screens to meet growing demand. The market will have some 25 films on offer, including Michel Ocelot’s French animated film “Tales of the Night,” which screens in competition at the Berlinale.

“Everyone is trying to see whether 3D works or not in their own field,” says EFM director Beki Probst. “Some people think 3D should remain something for event stories. If you start to make every kind of film in 3D, it doesn’t work. Sometimes you see a film in 2D and part of it in 3D and there’s no difference, except that you have to wear glasses. I think for the moment, it’s a big question mark.”

As ever, arthouse remains the focus at the market.

“We are here in Berlin, we are not the American Film Market,” says Probst. “People come here for a certain kind of film.”

The EFM’s close collaboration with the Berlinale means all of the fest’s selections are on offer at the market.

“For us, it’s always a guarantee to get all those films in the different sections. It’s a good feeling knowing that you have a base that already has a label.”

Among this year’s high-profile fest screeners are Nazi-era dark comedy “My Best Enemy,” by Austrian helmer Wolfgang Murnberger (“The Bone Man”); “Margin Call,” J.C. Chandor’s star-studded banking drama; and “Even the Rain,” Iciar Bollain’s Spanish drama starring Gael Garcia Bernal.

The high percentage of arthouse fare at the market has remained stable, says Probst. “Sometimes there are more French films, sometimes there are more U.S. independent films. This year, there are fewer films from Italy and Spain. It’s like wine — you have good wine years, you have bad wine years.”

Probst points out, however, that arthouse continues to face difficulties in the face of major mainstream Hollywood 3D productions as well as an ever-expanding digital landscape.

“Arthouse has a crisis at the moment. It’s difficult to say whether this crisis has come because the potential of recent arthouse films hasn’t been strong enough or because of the competition of all those new 3D films. I think it’s a combination of both.”

Probst sees two major related issues that are choking the arthouse sector. “On the one hand it’s a financial situation, on the other it’s a lack of creativity. There is this focus on sequels and franchises, whether it’s ‘Harry Potter’ or another ‘Toy Story.’ That’s a sign that there is a lack of creativity, a lack of ideas.”

Adds EFM co-director Catherine Buresi: “It’s also connected to financing because what you get easily financed today are all kinds of sequels because nobody wants to take risks. It’s too difficult. You see it everywhere.”

And it’s not a good thing, says Probst. “It’s risky business when you only plan sequels and sequels. People are getting sick and tired. Deja vu.”

For Probst, however, there still are plenty of works that give her hope. “It’s always very good when you have films like ‘Of God and Men’ that make you believe there is still a very, very powerful arthouse section. … These films work because the word of mouth is so good.”

What exact impact the changing cinematic experience will have on arthouse remains to be seen, she adds.

“You have a younger generation that is growing up with 3D. Will that generation one day come to an arthouse film? I don’t know.”

By the look of this year’s attendance figures, not to mention 2010’s record-setting 300,000 admissions for the Berlinale, arthouse looks like it’s here to stay, at least for a while longer.

Early figures indicate market attendance this year likely will be at least on par with 2010, which saw 1,365 registered buyers, 419 participating companies and a total of 6,450 attendees.

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