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Europeans Get Back to Business at the Asian Film Market

After a relatively fallow 2017, European sales companies at Busan’s Asian Film Market, which runs Oct. 6-9, appear to be headed back to the halcyon days of 2016, despite the damp weather conditions. Statistics from European Film Promotion (EFP), a constant presence at the market since 2006 via their Europe Umbrella business hub for European sales companies, tell the tale.

At the 2016 market, 27 European companies represented 105 films, of which 48, or 45.71%, were sold across Asia. These included “Night of a 1000 Hours,” sold by Germany’s Picture Tree Intl., and “Porto,” sold by Poland’s New Europe Film Sales. In 2017, 30 companies represented 119 films, of which 47, or 39.49%, were sold to Asian territories, including “BPM (Beats Per Minute),” sold by France’s Playtime, and “The Insult,” repped by fellow French outfit Alpha Violet.

In 2018, reflecting what has been a strong year for European cinema, there are 74 films from the continent at the Busan film festival, up from 55 titles in 2017. Consequently, European talent attending the festival is up to 32 representatives, from 15 in 2017.

Thirty-two is also the number of European sales companies at the market this year. This includes four new attendees — Denmark’s Copenhagen Bombay, Germany’s Rushlake Media and The Open Reel and True Colours Glorious Films, both from Italy. “As a door opened to Asian markets, we believe it’s time, for us, to explore new horizons and we’re excited to promote high quality  independent productions from Europe,” the Open Reel’s Cosimo Santoro told Variety. The Open Reel’s market titles include “The Flower Shop,” “Figures,” “Thirty Souls” and “Sunburn.”

Returning to the market after a two-year gap is U.K. outfit Protagonist Pictures. “It’s not a market we attend systematically but this year we are representing two films which are selected [by] the Busan film festival,” said Protagonist’s Charlotte Lopez. “Being here is also a great opportunity to meet new buyers we might not have the occasion to meet in other markets, and take the time to have more in-depth conversations.” The Protagonist titles playing at the festival are “The Kindergarten Teacher” and “The Devil Outside,” and the company has several other titles at the market including “Vita and Virginia” and “Rosie,” fresh off their Toronto world premieres.

There are market regulars for whom Busan has been a happy hunting ground, like Denmark’s Trust Nordisk. “The Asian Film market is quite important for us and has been for the last many years — we sell a lot and this year we have a lot of new titles that we launch this fall — so it’s good for us to warm up as well before AFM,” said Trust Nordisk’s Nicolai Korsgaard. The company represents some 20 titles a year, and their genre titles including “The Last King,” “The Wave” and “The Quake” have sold widely at Busan. Its slate this year includes “That Time of Year,” “Before the Frost” and “Blindspot.”

Similarly, returning German/French outfit Films Boutique is bullish about the market. “The market is a great tool to show European (and non-European) films to Asian buyers — and to develop and foster long-term relationships with distributors,” said the company’s Gabor Greiner. Films Boutique has four films playing at the festival: “Birds of Passage,” pictured above, “Domingo,” “Buy Me a Gun” and “Border,” plus several others in the market including Cannes titles “Sextape” and “One Day.”

Several of the European sales companies at the market have grants from the EFP, under their Film Sales Support scheme, funded by Creative Europe – MEDIA Program of the European Union, for the promotion of their films at the market. This year, the EFP also has an extended program of market events. These include a filmmaker’s talk by Korean producer Lewis Kim (“Illang: The Wolf Brigade,” “Okja”) for the European delegation and a masterclass by Swiss producer Fabrice Aragno (“The Image Book”) for the participants of pan-Asian community forum Platform Busan. Thanks to a new agreement between the EFP, the Asian Project Market and European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs’ Ties That Bind initiative, eight European producers will participate in an industry and networking day at the market.

“2017 was a difficult year, but EFP has been in close contact with the festival even in troubled times and together we have revived our cooperation,” says EFP’s Susanne Davis, noting that the much stronger presence of European films in the festival should lead to strong business.

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