U.S. invasion rolls into Berlin

Major English-language titles are flooding into European Film Market

Is Berlin’s European Film Market becoming an American film market?

While U.S. sellers once came to Berlin to meet, greet and prep for Cannes, now some of the world’s biggest sales companies use the EFM to introduce starry titles, a trend that began last year, when buyers at the Berlinale were inundated by major U.S. pics at what used to be a bastion of European arthouse trading.

Exclusive Media unveiled Barry Levinson’s “Black Mass” with Johnny Depp as Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, with Cross Creek co-producing. IM Global arrives with “Blood Sisters,” starring Zoey Deutch and Mark Walters. Focus Features Intl. acquired worldwide rights on Jeremy Renner drama “Kill the Messenger.”

“We normally don’t sell at Berlin but this project has so much heat that we’d be crazy not to,” Focus Intl.’s Alison Thompson explained.

Other market trends are also in play.

Uber indie franchises “Twilight” and “Hunger Games” have provided select distributors with their biggest B.O. windfalls in years. Drawing on Richelle Mead’s “Vampire Academy” bestsellers, “Blood Sisters” looks to parlay “Twilight” vibes into “Twilight” biz.

Packaging on Berlin’s high-profile titles has gone down to the wire.

“We just began talking about ‘Black Mass’ 10 days ago,” Exclusive Media’s Alex Walton said.

“Johnny had been looking for the right project and once he got involved, we jumped on it. It’s a story — the criminal mastermind living an ordinary life across the country — that everyone in the world can understand.”

There are reasons, however, for companies not to wait for Cannes to fire off some of their biggest titles.

“We’re going through very hard times. You don’t know quite what shape the market will be in a few months, but do know distributors won’t have money all year and will spend it at the first big festivals,” said film finance maven Leonard Glowinski of 22h22.

Also, such was the deluge of big English-language titles at Cannes last year that some got lost in the crush.

Berlin delivered in 2012 for some high rollers. Walton noted Foresight saw strong sales a year ago for crime drama, “Two Guns,” starring Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington.

Many major new pics skew towards genre or action. Colin Farrell is close to joining Anthony Hopkins in FilmNation’s supernatural thriller “Solace.” Sam Worthington stars in Sierra/Affinity’s action-thriller “For the Dogs,” helmed by Phillip Noyce; Pierce Brosnan will topline revenge thriller “Last Man Out,” from London-based Ealing Metro Intl.; Pathe Intl. has “Zulu,” with Orlando Bloom and Forest Whitaker.

But love always sells too. A bevy of Berlin’s biggest are either romantic comedies — Marc Lawrence’s untitled Hugh Grant and Marisa Tomei starrer, produced by Castle Rock, sold by FilmNation; Constantin Films’ “Love, Rosie,” with Lily Collins and Sam Claflin, shopped by Mister Smith — or at least romantic, such as Voltage Pictures’ duo, “A Girl and a Gun,” a romantic action movie with Megan Fox and Anthony Mackie; and romantic drama “Words and Pictures,” with Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche. Henry Selick is bringing footage from his revived “The Shadow King” to Berlin with K5 handling sales. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” producer Josh Penn is attached.

Berlin still boasts higher-profile, foreign-language fare — Studiocanal’s “El Nino,” for example — plus a plethora of new films from exciting auteurs: Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Blue Is a Hot Color,” at Wild Bunch; Lukas Moodysson’s “Vi ar bast” from TrustNordisk; and Luca Guadagnino’s “The Body Artist” from Alfama.

But will they sell? The challenge for foreign-language or smaller fare is to tap into the VOD acquisitions momentum.

“Except for the two or three big deals with the likes of Fox Searchlight and Relativity, all the deals that got done at Sundance — and for good money for everybody — were ultra VOD titles, theatrical and VOD day-and-date release. I was amazed,” said Cecile Gaget of Gaumont Intl., which will screen first footage at Berlin of Nicolas Vanier’s “Belle and Sebastian.”

The next six days at the EFM in Berlin will tell.