American Film Market 2011: Global Locations - France

Many industryites love to grumble about AFM for various reasons but, as the third most important film market after Cannes and Berlin, sellers find their bottom-line needs mean they have to go and be seen.

Unifrance, the French film promotion organization that reps half the Gallic sales companies at AFM, has found an “a la carte” option to work around the mart.

While Gaul’s biggest players — Studio Canal, Pathe, EuropaCorp, Celluloid Dreams, Gaumont, TF1 Intl., SND, Films Distribution and a few more — will pay big bucks to be part of the show and work from their suites inside the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica, at least 10 smaller shingles — including MK2, Rezo, Le Pacte, Wide Management and Urban Distribution — repped by Unifrance have opted out of AFM for a second year and will set up shop in an art gallery a few blocks from the Loews.

“Even with our support, the cost of attending the AFM was too high for these French companies,” says Unifrance assistant general manager Gilles Renouard. “Many of them told us they would renounce coming to the market unless we could find a solution outside of the AFM.”

Working from the art gallery allows Unifrance and its French sales company to cut down expenses by more than 30%, according to Renouard. The inconvenience is that companies won’t be able to use AFM screening facilities, but most of these companies didn’t use them anyway.

“It’s sad — they’re almost saying ‘My film doesn’t matter so I choose to have a booth four blocks away,’ ” says AFM managing director Jonathan Wolf, who claims the cost issue is “absolutely false.”

“Out of the five largest film and TV markets, AFM, Berlin’s European Film Market, Cannes, Mipcom and Mip TV, the cost of exhibition space at the AFM is the lowest,” says the topper, adding that the rate has increased a mere 3% every year.

But it’s not just about the cost.

“EFM and the Cannes market are more expensive but they’re also more beneficial to most French companies because they’re linked to film festivals and are more arthouse-friendly,” says Renouard.

In addition, film fests like Toronto and even Rome, which takes place just before AFM, have become increasingly popular among French sellers who often have various films in selections.

For Gaul’s arthouse banners, AFM is seen as “too specialized, serving the best high-concept genre films, B-movies, big projects that sell on scripts and direct-to-video titles,” explains one sales agent.

But Wolf says the big problem comes from the sales strategy of some French shingles.

“Some companies benefit from so much financial support to travel and attend festivals and markets around the world that ultimately their films become over-exposed and as a result they’re not able to create an auction environment and a sense of urgency around their films,” says Wolf. “Buyers who come to the AFM are all looking for new films — they don’t see films that have been around for many months and have already screened at every occasion.”

But even for those who find AFM does bring good business, the cost of attending is a concern in tough times.

“It gets more and more expensive every year; it’s as if the AFM organizers still live in the economic boom of the 1980s,” says Nicolas Brigaud-Robert, co-founder of Films Distribution. He will be unveiling promo reels of Brillante Mendoza’s English-language debut “Captured,” starring Isabelle Huppert, and “Gibier d’elevage,” Rithy Panh’s Cambodia-set drama.

“Eventually, AFM risks losing its dynamism if the cost of participation continues to climb and, as a result, excludes the smaller independent outfits,” Brigaud-Robert adds.

Loic Magneron, founder of burgeoning sales company Wide Management, says his shingle has always closed great deals with Asian buyers at the Santa Monica mart, but he couldn’t afford to share a suite with another company at AFM and therefore had to stick with Unifrance.

A clutch of companies, notably Pyramide Intl., Les Film du Losange, the Coproduction office and Coach 14 — all well-respected distribution and sales outfits — will be a no-show in Santa Monica altogether.

So far, Unifrance, Paris-based mini-major Wild Bunch, sales shingles Elle Driver and FilmNation have opted out of AFM, but will be setting up camp nearby. However, given the potential benefits of making a deal, smart mart observers will watch for signs of peacemaking.

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