Some 250 international buyers and 50 sales agents are signed up

The Venice Film Festival bows its inaugural film mart today in a bid to become the first place to do deals after the summer, ahead of Toronto and the American Film Market, and regain the industry presence the Lido once had.

“I used to come to Venice 15 or 20 years ago as a sales agent, and I used to do plenty of business here before Toronto,” recalled Venice Film Market topper Pascal Diot.

Since then, the Toronto Film Festival has expanded exponentially and, since it starts just a few days after the VFM closes, that makes the new mart “a gamble,” as Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera puts it.

So far, the VFM launch seems to be paying off. Some 250 international buyers and about 50 sales agents are signed up, a higher turnout than expected. In total there are 980 industryites, comprising producers and execs from film commission execs, accredited to the VFM.

Though some national umbrella orgs, including the Italian Film Commissions, Eurimages, Russia’s Roskino and Argentina’s Incaa, have their own stands, most execs will do biz in an Excelsior Hotel Industry Club lounge with free catering and use an area equipped with a 40-station digital video library for individual screenings.

Thanks in part to Barbera’s slimmed-down lineup, buyers this year will also have greater access to fest screenings, including those for the press.

Diot also has a promo reels special screenings initiative that lets buyers see first footage of pics, such as Gallic fashion designer Agnes B’s helming debut “My Name Is Hmmm…,” from Films Boutique, and Argentine auteur Carlos Sorin’s “Gone Fishing,” from Celluloid Dreams.

Diot says the goal is to become a bigger market with screening rooms, albeit “not like Cannes or Berlin; but something in between.”

“I think they are doing the right thing,” said Wild Bunch head of sales Vincent Maraval, recalling past years at Venice when he had to stalk the Excelsior lobby hunting for buyers or run after them in the street to talk up his films, which made him feel “like a hooker.”

“They needed to improve things for buyers, and that’s what they’ve done,” he added.

While Maraval is skeptical about Venice ever becoming a bona-fide mart in any way comparable to Cannes or Berlin, he does think that “if it suddenly becomes cheaper and easier to go to Venice, most of the European buyers will come, though they will still go to Toronto, but perhaps with a smaller team.”

Loic Magneron, topper of Eye on Films, sees VFM as a place to seal deals early in the fall season.

“Because it’s just before Toronto, right at the end of the summer, you can show your film to European distributors and make a sort of preview of your upcoming films,” he said.

That, in turn, could lead to doing significant biz ahead of Toronto, at least as far as Europe is concerned.

Geographically, Diot, who also runs the Dubai Film Market, would like to open the VFM a little more eastward “to become a kind of bridge with the Middle East and Asia.”

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