Berlin Market: Only the Strong Survive

Bevy of new projects being talked up by distributors

Mel Gibson Gary Oldman Karlovy Vary
Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

BERLIN –After a surprisingly vibrant Sundance, expect a more focused and contained 2015 Berlin European Film Market, one that underscores the deep transformation now under way in international movie markets.

“The market isn’t demanding a higher volume of films. It’s just demanding stronger, theatrical films,” said FilmNation’s Glen Basner. With digital delivery still to fire up in Europe, international TV/DVD market contraction “forces everybody to focus on higher-priced movies for theatrical content or much lower-priced titles for ancillaries,” he added.

“Aside from higher ticket prices, box office’s global rise stems from two factors: China and local production,” the latter taking market share from “the mid-sized American movies, once the backbone of the independent business,” said Constantin’s Martin Moszkowicz.

The net effect for Berlin: “There’s no ‘Hateful Eight,’ like at the AFM, but there are projects from FilmNation, Mr Smith, Lionsgate, and a handful of others: A few, big must-have movies; less-and-less mid-size movies: and a myriad of smaller pictures, many straight-to-ancillary fare,” Moszkowicz added.

“There will be fewer high-profile titles,” agreed Ivan Boeing, at Brazil’s Imagem Filmes. That said, “There is going to be the usual 20, 30 new projects that distributors really need to look at, some quite interesting.”

Among the marquue sales outfits, FilmNation will bow Osama Bin Laden satire “Army of One,” with Nicolas Cage, from “Borat’s” Larry Charles and “a really entertaining script,” said one distributor; Mel Gibson directs Andrew Garfield in IM Global-sold “Hacksaw Ridge,” a heroic World War II epic, already the subject of aggressive bidding and deal-making; Bloom introduces prison thriller “Three Seconds,” starring Luke Evans, and Congo battle actioner “Jadotville,” with Jamie Doran and Guillaume Canet.

Colin Firth plays a round-the-world yachtsman in Studiocanal’s untitled James Marsh project; Dakota Fanning and Will Poulter star in Mr Smith’s “Brain on Fire,” about a woman’s terrifying descent into insanity; Sierra/Affinity brings mining adventure-drama “Gold,” with Matthew McConaughey, Stephen Gaghan helming.

All but one of these titles fictionalize true stories. “Hacksaw,” for instance, turns on conscientious objector Desmond Doss; “Jadotville“ narrates U.N. peacekeeper Pat Quinlan’s “extraordinary true story of heroism,” said Bloom’s Alex Walton.

“There’s a market for fresh and original stories that don’t insult an audience, have a very strong emotional core and are very relatable and there are so many goods stories that come from real life,” commented David Garrett at Mr Smith, whose “Brain on Fire” adapts a bestselling Susannah Cahalan memoir.

Big-ticket 2015 Berlin fare may often fall into two categories: Mainstream with edge, upscale for maturer auds or intelligent sensitivities. “Audiences are looking for something different, especially in independent projects, you have to be distinctive,” Walton said.

“Movies that are going to survive are either very critically orientated or have top-tier commercial talent on board.

They are events of some sort, have some kind of must-see factor,” said IM Global’s Stuart Ford. “That evolution or realization is impacting on the kind of movies being brought to Berlin.”

In other high-profile plays, Lotus will be focusing buyers’ attention on their next franchise play, “Tiger Curse,” an action/adventure/fantasy film series targeting under-served family demos, said Lotus’ Bill Johnson.

Wild Bunch’s-slate, one of the EFM’s weightiest, sports buzzed about pics, such as Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s “Evolution” Luc Jacquet’s “Ice and the Sky,” and Jean-Jacques Annaud’s “The Wolf’s Totem,” on which rights are shared with Hong Kong’s Edko. Gaumont’s will unveil a buzzed-up romcom, Films Distribution close first sales on Nanni Moretti’s “Mia madre.”

Latin America’s biggest new titles include Pablo Trapero’s upcoming “The Clan,” from Film Factory, and Pablo Larrain’s “The Club,” from Funny Balloons. Germany’s The Match Factory sells four competition films, including Andreas Dresen’s “As We Were Dreaming.”

There was no early-week project tsunami. “I’m hearing from buyers that Berlin will be pretty quiet. Part of it could be Sundance’s timing, with agents very busy there, part the state of the industry,” said Radiant Films Intl.’s Mimi Steinbauer, who’s screening “Dare to be Wild,” a “Billy Elliot with flowers.”

“International markets’ biggest problem is that they haven’t caught up with the U.S. in growth of the digital market,” added Lotus’ Jim Seibel.

The industry already finds Berlin highly useful, “perfect timing to present Spring shoots, set up the year with buyers and pre-sell possibly Cannes-bound films,” said Anna Marsh at Studiocanal, which has two French event films, Maiwenn’s “Mon Roi” and “April and the Twisted World.”

Another factor now favors the Berlinale: “Distributors reduce risk substantially buying movies performing well in Berlin or other festivals. There’s going to be a shift from mainstream mid-sized Hollywood movies to more art-house, European-skewing movies,” Moszkowicz forecast.

If so, there may be a late flurry of festival hits trading – remember Cannes last year? One can but hope: Optimism these days is a main industry driver.