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Berlin Film Festival Kicks Off ‘Grand’ Indie Film Market

Wes Anderson's ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ — a U.S. indie made with a mix of global money — opens 64th festival

As buyers and sellers touch down in Berlin, the high-end pics in the European Film Market are now moving in two directions: cast-driven action thrillers and older-skewing prestige dramas with stars attached, budgeted around $20 million-$30 million.

This is exactly the budgetary range that Europe, led by France, dove into after Hollywood’s specialty divisions began closing and downsizing over the past several years.
But now the Americans have staged a comeback in that space, thanks to hits such as “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “Mud,” “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “All Is Lost,” a thriving, if niche, VOD/theatrical scene and more money.

But there are still big pics coming out of Europe. Benedict Cumberbatch headlines Sergei Bodrov’s Altitude-sold action thriller “Blood Mountain”; Cillian Murphy plays opposite Bryce Dallas Howard in Jason Lew’s thriller “The Free World,” from Memento; “True Detective” creator Nic Pizzolatto penned Embankment’s thriller “Galveston” with Mathias
Schoenaerts.

And the U.S. is now making much use of Berlin: High-profile titles include Voltage’s “Good Kill” with Andrew Nicoll directing and Ethan Hawke starring as a drone operator; Sam Worthington and Emma Roberts lead Jonathan Mostow’s Sierra/Affinity-sold action-thriller “For the Dogs”; FilmNation shops Participant Media thriller “A Most Violent Year,” with Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, directed by J.C. Chandor; and Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart star in Synchronicity’s Vinny Pazienza boxing bio.

Of other high-profile titles, Daniel Radcliffe toplines Goldcrest “Brooklyn Bridge”; QED is selling Oren Moverman’s “Time Out of Mind,” with Richard Gere; and Voltage has drama “The Secret Scripture” with Chastain.

Mark Damon of Foresight Unlimited admitted that there’s a seeming lack of projects available in fest’s lead-up, so sellers can put together attractive packages, such as FilmNation’s Daniel Craig court-room drama “The Whole Truth.”

“People are probably being rightfully cautious at the moment. You definitely want to be sure that the material you’re bringing to the market is right,” said Exclusive Media’s Alex Walton.

There are several reasons for the absence of really high-rollers.

“The thing with bigger movies is that they usually come from bigger companies that often have distribution in place. You won’t find so many on the open market,” said Studiocanal’s Olivier Courson.

The Solution Entertainment Group’s Lisa Wilson noted that sales companies have to scramble to board projects, such as its own drama “Ten Thousand Saints” starring Ethan Hawke and Asa Butterfield. “There’s a very truncated window for getting contracts locked in,” she said.

Above all, perhaps, is the fact that the international biz is undergoing a big change. “There is less money available, for example, from hedge funds or local tax shelters. And local industries around the world are increasingly healthy,” said Constantin Film’s Martin Moszkowicz, citing German (25%) and Italian (30%) films’ market shares.

“Even three years back, distributors at least had a safety net in DVD revenue, but no more, making bigger movie distribution more difficult,” he continued, pointing to the U.S. and France.

The fallout, Moszkowicz said, is companies are cutting down on $25 million-$50 million movies that can’t buy superstars but are expensive enough that they’ll lose their shirts if the film fails.

Yet there are some bigger action pics in the market geared toward international screens: Nicolas Cage looks set for Paco Cabezas’ crime thriller “Men With No Fear,” being sold by the Exchange; Mister Smith will talk up Stephen Hopkins’ “Race,” about Jesse Owens’ Olympics triumph; Bruce Willis is starring in “Vice,” being sold by K5 Intl. and Aldamisa is hawking thriller “Captive.”

But the feeling of this year’s European Film Market hardly seems action-packed.

“There are very interesting titles, very high profile arthouse fare, but I haven’t seen any that makes my skin tingle,” said Ivan Boeing at Brazil’s Imagem.

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