Producers from the former Eastern Bloc keep a sharp eye on Berlin’s European Film Market, they say, because it tends to be a bellwether of how sales will go for the rest of the year. Whether that logic is wholly rational or not, the February sales by the market’s tubthumpers, who number some 300 including scores from Eastern Europe, are indeed taken seriously by regional bizzers.

And with more than 5,000 registered participants, including major Euro players such as France’s Wild Bunch and Match Factory, the U.K.’s Film 4 and intriguing orgs such as Russia’s major broadcast player TNT-Network, the buzz is understandable.

“For us, the Romanian stand in EFM is a very important and active tool for promotion every year,” says Romanian producer Ada Solomon, whose shingle HiFilm is behind Forum entry “Everybody in Our Family.” When the country has such a high-profile film at Berlinale, she adds, the promo opp is especially useful. And, she says, “in terms of discovering new talents and projects that might involve Romania, the Romanian stand in EFM is the perfect match-making point.”

The market, situated in the Renaissance-style Martin-Gropius-Bau hall, has a relaxed-yet-busy feel that makes it “a welcoming and perfect place to develop ideas and business,” says Solomon.

Market topper Beki Probst says the scale of the exchange, almost unique in Europe, creates a synergy that makes it a success. The market has also launched special focuses — such as Meet the Docs set up in 2009 — to promote networking and exchange among buyers, sellers, directors and producers of docs.

One Polish producer on the rise who is betting strongly on docs, with eight completed since 2000, is OpusFilm, which has produced adventure tourism road movie “Hostandalien Poland,” a look at creative homelessness, “Nothing to Lose,” and the visually rich “I Can’t Imagine Life Without Dancing World.”

Rather than the EFM, OpusFilm is banking this year on Berlinale’s Co-Production Market, which promotes 25 pics in development to interested scouts and international producers. OpusFilm projects “The Word” and “The Pope’s Toilet,” part of a slate of five pics in development and three in production at the shingle, were chosen by the market from among dozens of entries.

Romania’s “Cristian,” by Tudor Giurgiu of Libra Film, also made the list.

“We hope to create interest around the story,” says Giurgiu, “as there were so many real events happening in Eastern Europe in recent years dealing with the intrusion of politics into justice, prosecutors committing suicide or attempts at poisoning journalists.”

Being at Berlinale may be the film’s best hope, he adds. “We would definitely need to secure a foreign partner and world sales, as local options for financing decreased dramatically in 2011.”

Because of the Berlinale’s long-established role in spotlighting new work from the former Soviet countries, says market organizer Sonja Heinen, “Eastern Europe is very important to the Berlinale Co-Production Market. Berlin was always a bridge to Eastern Europe and we are happy that we are also a part of it.”

Players from the east these days “play an integral part in the international co-production network,” she adds.

That’s born out by the numbers, say organizers: At least 17 projects from Eastern Europe that have been at the co-prod confab have culminated in completed films — a healthy share of the 120 completed overall.

“Simultaneously, quite a few Western projects have found Eastern European partners here,” says Heinen, “so it works both ways.”

Berlin Daily Spotlight: Central & Eastern Europe
Hard times, tough pics | Former Eastern Bloc steps up game for Berlin | Spotlights