Probst bullish on the biz

Berlin Film Festival Preview 2012

As the international movie industry prepares to descend on Berlin for the first major film bazaar of the year, European Film Market topper Beki Probst is upbeat about the current state of the business.

While 2010 was difficult, Probst says last year’s market “gave hope to everyone. You could really sense that things were picking up. I think that’s how most feel today. I don’t want to say that people are seeing everything in a pink cloud, but they see that the cinema industry is well and kicking.”

Indeed, further signs that a recovery may be in full swing is the welcomed return of the Independent Filmmaker Project and a new initiative aimed at indie American filmmakers.

Organized jointly with the IFP and the Sundance Institute, American Independents in Berlin will offer a place for filmmakers to meet and network.

The initiative is an outgrowth of the EFM’s cooperation with Sundance, including the Straight From Sundance screenings.

“We thought it would be an interesting operation because the films we get from Sundance are independents, and the IFP is also working with independents, so it was just a matter of bringing them together. And that is a good incentive for the market.”

Probst adds that the initiative will create a meeting point at the EFM for all the people involved in indies, from filmmakers and producers to sellers and buyers. In addition, the IFP will present seven yet-to-be-announced finished films to participants.

The American “independents are getting quite important,” Probst says. “Almost every year you have films coming from the States, little surprises and big surprises from the indies. That is something to support.”

Indeed, the IFP has the Berlinale to thank for its return to the festival after several years of absence.

In the wake of the financial crisis, the IFP stopped attending the EFM. After lengthy discussions last year and with the backing of Berlinale topper Dieter Kosslick, the EFM offered to support the IFP with a new area at the market’s Martin Gropius Bau venue — a deal made possible by the acquisition of more second-floor space at the historic exhibition hall.

In addition to the American indie initiative, the Meet the Docs networking program for documentary buyers and sellers is gaining strength.

More and more documentaries are being made and more and more documentary people like producers and filmmakers are attending the market, Probst adds. Meet the Docs will likewise be housed on the second floor of the Martin Gropius Bau, alongside the EFM’s bar lounge.

Returning this year for the sixth time are the EFM Industry Debates, in which industry reps, financiers and journos discuss current trends, challenges and perspectives in the film and entertainment industry.

For Probst, one of the biggest challenges is keeping up with the fast-paced evolution of moviemaking and film projection technology and the logistic demands that entail.

“We have to adapt to new technology, which is quite a big adaptation. We are now in the middle of programming and I am nostalgic for 35mm films, how easy it is to place them. But now you have to think, you have so many options — HDCA, DCP and 3D and all that,” Probst says. ”

For the EFM, it means more digital and 3D screenings.

The market is unveiling a 3D venue at Potsdamer Platz, the CineStar Event cinema at the Sony Center. In recent years the EFM had used the Astor Lounge cinema, located a few miles west of the festival center. Although the market offered organized bus transportation to the Astor Lounge, it was still a trek for attendees.

“We did not have anything like the CineStar Event at Potsdamer Platz before, so that will make life much easier,” says Probst.

In addition, the EFM has four more cinemas at the Cubix multiplex at Alexanderplatz, which will be used for screenings by companies that are not renting space at the EFM’s main Martin Gropius Bau and Marriot venues.

Probst expects this year’s market to remain stable, with overall participation and the number of films on par with last year, if not higher. Figures as of Jan. 6 show 400 participating companies this year, compared with the same amount in the end tally of 2011’s EFM.

As of mid-January, 963 buyers have registered (with the figure expected to rise), compared with 1,532 last year. In 2011, the market boasted 741 films; as of early January, that figure was at 664. Similarly, the number of 3D titles a year ago was 29, compared to 25 so far this year; again, that figure is expected to increase in the coming weeks. The number of market premieres stands at 525 vs. 570 at the last EFM, while overall 2012 participants number 5,167 compared to 6,982 a year ago.

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