Asian Film Market comes to halt

Event ends with few deals, no standouts

The Asian Film Market sputtered to a dismal halt Monday in Pusan, with many buyers rushing for the airport and sellers left staring into empty corridors.

While numerous explanations were offered for the slump, which came despite an improvement in the facilities, the simple fact was that there were very few deals signed and no standout product or project.

“It was good for meeting Korean companies, but otherwise the market has been very slow,” said Shiori Takata, international sales and purchasing exec at Japan’s Toei, which didn’t close a single deal. Takata hopes to deals will be better at the Tokyo Film Festival’s Tiffcom market and AFM.

“It was slow. It is a difficult time for independent film, but Pusan in particular this year has lacked drive,” Michelle Yeh, prexy of Taiwan production and sales company Three Dots Entertainment, said.

Many commented on the lack of European and North American distributors. “There was no Pathe, MK2, Arte or Channel 4,” said Indian producer Sudhir Mishra.

Market organizers said there were 4,640 participants. Some 38 films, including 21 market preems, screened a total of 46 times.

The AFM this year shifted from the upper floors of the Grand Hotel to the more modern Sea Cloud, avoiding the deluge of complaints about long waits for elevators. But instead attendees were irritated that the AFM, Pusan fest, location market Bifcom and Pusan Promotion Plan were all in separate venues.

Several sellers said that while they held pre-arranged meetings there was less passing trade in previous years. “Foot traffic is generally down,” said Kim Yun-jeong, senior manager at Korean seller Fine Cut.

Explanations for the malaise included world economic conditions; increased competition from other markets, especially Tiffcom; and the poor state of the Korean production sector.

“People seem to be just looking. Often companies did not send their decision makers,” said Gaga international marketing exec Haruko Watanabe. “We have a great picture in ‘Halfway,’ produced by Iwai Shunji and here as a completed film, but we need more people to see it before closing deals,” she said.

Even buyers from the Asian region decided that Pusan was optional this year.

“We’ve heard that a lot of people did not come here and are going to Tokyo instead,” said Ko Mori of L.A.-based, Japanese company Eleven Arts.

That was true of several buyers from Hong Kong who will head to the Tokyo market.

“Korean film was booming, now it seems to be the turn of Japanese film to be in fashion,” Fine Cut’s Kim, said. “People here simply don’t have a buying drive. The strength of the Korean industry affects everything.”

“Some 95% of interest here is from Korea and Japan. And it was interesting to see them coming looking for finance,” said Susan Macdonald of Philippines-based Bigfoot Entertainment. “Also there was a demand for package deals. We didn’t close anything here, but are expecting to hear back from people with their package terms.”

She sold company’s “Midnight Movie to Japan’s E-Net on the eve of the market.

“We accomplished here all that we set out to achieve and will next be going to Mipcom and the AFM,” said Raquel Mesina, director of international sales at first-time Pusan market attendee Cinemavault. “But maybe we don’t need to take a booth. We could probably cover this with a representative taking meetings and doing acquisitions.”

German sales company M-appeal licensed Korean rights for Andrzej Takimowski’s latest film “Trick” to local indie distrib Coral Pictures.

Pic, about a boy who resorts to tricks to get his estranged father to come home, was announced as Poland’s nominee for the 2009 foreign-language Oscar in late September. The deal, struck at the Asian Film Market in Pusan, follows an earlier sale to Taiwanese distributor Cineplex.