Europeans Keep Their Eyes on Busan Prize

EFP’s determined push into the Korean peninsula is finally paying off for sales agents

The Cut Busan Film Festival

Most attendees may view the Busan Intl. Film Festival as a showcase for Asian films and a place to link up with Asian buyers and sellers. And that it is.

But European Film Promotion has made a strong push at BIFF in recent years, and according to sales agents, it’s paying dividends.

“We’ve grown our presence year on year,” says Susanne Davis, project director, film sales support at European Film Promotion. There will be 40 companies on EFP’s “umbrella stand,” which is co-produced with UniFrance this year.

SEE ALSO: European Film Promotion Sets Global Plan for Continental Indies

“With Hong Kong earlier in the year and Busan in autumn, it’s the best of both worlds,” Davis says. She credits BIFF deputy director/market director Jay Jeon and general manager Daniel Kim for the improvement.

Helga Binder, deputy head of film funding at the Film und Medienstiftung NRW, says Busan is an interesting market for European films, and that there is growing interest from Asia in co-productions.

“We’re gaining profile, making good contacts, pushing North-Rhine Westphalia’s creative and successful production scene, and learning more about co-financing models,” Binder says. At Busan, her company is repping Fatih Akin’s “The Cut” and Max Leo’s “My Brother’s Keeper.”

Jean-Christophe Simon, CEO & partner of Films Boutique, says, “We don’t usually sell a lot on the spot but we do deals every year as a result of us being in Busan.”

International sales executive Katarzyna Siniarska of New Europe Film Sales, which this year is repping Latvia’s Oscar entry, “Rocks in My Pockets,” says her company’s presence at Busan especially helps find theatrical, home entertainment or VOD buyers looking for what she calls “uplifting or genre content.”

Busan’s project market draws praise from Yuanyuan Sui, operating officer, sales & acquisitions for Picture Tree Intl., who calls it “a very good contribution and blend between Asia and the rest of the world.”

Although describing South Korea as “difficult for overseas arthouse films,” Simon says, “it is still a very competitive market and many distributors are able and willing to compete when you have films they like.”

To make deals even more challenging, Mercy Liao, sales manager at West End Films, says, “local films are very strong and there is virtually no video market for foreign non-studio films. Foreign indies have to have something special to draw audiences into theaters because you can’t rely on ancillary sales to make profits. They really need to work in theatrical.”

Sui says she is “very curious how our German blockbuster ‘Fack Ju Goethe’ will perform in Korea.” The picture recently got its first international release in the Czech Republic, where it performed well enough to be No. 2 at the box office after three weeks. “I am not sure if it will do the same in Korea,” she says, “but I know Koreans also embrace universal screwball comedies.”

But sales reps understand that some films simply won’t work in South Korea.

Siniarska says that while local arthouse distributors have very sophisticated tastes, “less uplifting, smaller, arthouse titles that could work in Japan or Taiwan are less likely to find theatrical distribution here.”

But Films Boutique’s Simon sees documentaries trending upward. “It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays in coming years,” he says.