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Riding High, Independents Hope to Keep Up Momentum in Berlin

Barring a last minute flurry of big titles, Berlin market’s lineup looks slightly slimmer this year

Buoyed by a robust performance at Sundance and an impressive number of Oscar nominations, the independent film industry is arriving at the Berlin International Film Festival with a spring in its step and with a clutch of movies starring the likes of Keanu Reeves, Jodie Foster, Liam Neeson and Gerard Butler.

The question is how much of the momentum built up during the past few weeks will carry over to Berlin’s European Film Market.

So far, the pickings at the EFM appear to be slimmer in terms of high-profile titles than in recent years, in contrast to Sundance, where a remarkable nine movies sold for at least $5 million each last month. “Berlin is still essential” as a marketplace, said David Garrett of Mister Smith Entertainment. “But its timing isn’t always conducive to having the biggest lineups.”

The smaller crop of films isn’t due to financing woes. “It’s finding the package which attracts distribution and equity: the material, actors and director,” said Bloom’s Alex Walton, especially in a Golden Age of television that is siphoning away a lot of that talent.

Still, there are some bigger pics being touted in the German capital. Lionsgate is introducing two Participant Media titles: Jose Padilha’s political action-thriller “Entebbe” and Rupert Wyatt’s “Captive State,” described by one distributor as “a very cool sci-fi script.” It also has the Jodie Foster-starring thriller “Hotel Artemis.”

Bloom is presenting “Dragged Across Concrete,” a crime thriller from S. Craig Mahler (“Bone Tomahawk”) that reunites Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn, who worked together on “Hacksaw Ridge.” Liam Neeson stars in Studiocanal’s “Hard Powder,” a Rocky Mountains-set action/revenge thriller.

Keanu Reeves travels to Russia in Matthew Ross’ romantic thriller “Siberia” for IM Global, which also has “Serenity,” with Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway. Gerard Butler stars in “Snow Ponies” for Sierra/Affinity.

FilmNation is selling Amazon Studios’ “Suspiria” remake, from hot director Luca Guadagnino, and the multi-generational relationship drama “Life Itself” from Dan Fogelman, which features Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde and Samuel L. Jackson.

Mister Smith has the new Terrence Malick film, “Radegund,” plus Max Minghella’s “Teen Spirit,” from “La La Land” producer Fred Berger, while Fortitude reps suspense action fantasy “War Wolf,” from Simon West.

How these and other titles will fare remains to be seen, but CAA’s Roeg Sutherland said that sellers are optimistic. “The basic takeaway from Sundance is that, because of the more competitive buyers’ landscape, it’s the best sellers’ market in years,” he said.

“Pricing is up, the speed of deal-making is faster, and the time at which distributors buy movies gets earlier in the production cycle,” added CAA’s Micah Green.

As at Sundance, competition is heavier because of muscular new buyers like Amazon, which acquired worldwide rights to three movies at Sundance. “At major markets, you’ll see more and more top product, especially in the mid-to-lower-budget range, being bought worldwide by streaming services,” said Martin Moszkowicz of Constantin.

But Sundance and Berlin aren’t clones of each other. “Sundance will remain firmly driven [by] U.S. domestic. Berlin is a different focus: Bigger independent distributors will continue to be active there,” said Mimi Steinbauer at Radiant Films Intl.

Following recent trends, sales hits in Berlin could come across the board. Buzz titles include Memento Films Intl.’s “Piercing” from Nicolas Pesce, now in post-production; The Match Factory’s new Aki Kaurismaki movie, “The Other Side of Hope”; and another competition title, Sebastian Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman,” sold by Funny Balloons.

The big question for the international marketplace remains  “how to join the dots between big streaming services acquiring content worldwide and the pipeline needs of the independent marketplace,” said IM Global’s Stuart Ford.

As some companies pull back from supplying distributors, that creates opportunities for others to move in.

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