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Berlin’s 2019 Market: Smaller, More Select, Slower

FilmNation Entertainment’s “Reminiscence,” AGC Studios’ “Voyagers” and Rocket Science’s “Trial of the Chicago 7” were buzz titles at a 2019 Berlin market, which, compared to the last two years, proved smaller, more select and slower.

Directed by Neil Burger and produced by Basil Iwanyk, who rolled into Berlin to pitch the project to buyers, sci-fi thriller “Voyagers” pre-sold across the world, as did  another AGC Studios title, Yuval Adler’s thriller “The Secrets We Keep,” starring Noomi Rapace and Joel Kinnaman.

Hugh Jackman toplines “Reminiscence,” another sci-fi thriller, which, besides “Voyagers,” was the other true-blue big title hitting the market at Berlin.

Another big title was STX Intl.’s “Greenland,” from Anton and Iwanyk’s Thunder Road Films. Gerard butler is in advanced negotiations to star in the film.

“There’s activity on the market. Deals are going down,” said Constantin’s Martin Moszkowicz.

But the European Film Market also points to the general direction that the independent film business is taking in international, where it will “be on a much more limited scale,” he added.

So, rather like at last year’s Cannes Festival, Berlin buzz turned on a few top-tier large movies, or on quality, less commercial titles or a clutch of hot festival tickets, such as “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” from Rocket Science, acclaimed for its Aaron Sorkin screenplay or Francois Ozon’s well-reviewed Berlin competition player “By the Grace of God,” from Playtime. Highland Films also notched up robust sales on “Trauma Center,” starring Bruce Willis.

Amazon bought just one film, acquiring Benedict Andrews’ “Against All Enemies,” from Memento Films Intl.

At least through mid-Monday, U.S. domestic deals on Berlin properties proved highly select. IFC Films scored North America from Wild Bunch on Hirokazu Kore-eda’s French-language debut, “The Truth,” with Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche; Sony Pictures Classics picked up worldwide rights to doc “John Prine: Hello in There”; Cohen Media Group acquired North America on Tuva Novotny’s Swedish dramedy “Britt-Marie Was Here,” from SF Studios.

While prominent sales companies such as Sierra/Affinity, for instance, often announce substantial deals on top titles after market close, this edition of the EFM has been a market where sales to just four or five major international territories was held to be newsworthy.

Clearly, Berlin is not Sundance, which is primarily a U.S. distribution market. At Berlin, companies attempt to pre-sell movies all over the world. But the international distribution sector has downscaled, both in prices paid by distributors, and their numbers. “The U.K. has hardly anybody buying,” said Moszkowicz. “Germany is very hard; because there are no TV slots, Spain is pretty much non-existent.”

But shifting economics is impacting the market. “We are in a very buoyant production sector when you factor TV drama and the movies streamers are making,” said AGC Studios’ Stuart Ford. That means that “budgets are staying the same or going up and beyond the reach of what buyers in the current uncertain economic climate can afford or are willing to take a gamble on.”

So markets and sales agents are ever more choosy. London-based Anton has moved energetically into fully-financing films, production and sales. But it is being highly selective, boarding “five films a year,” said topper Harold van Lier. Those are mostly high-end family entertainment and elevated genre, such as horror thriller “The Night House,” starring Rebecca Hall, which has “offers or interest in most territories,” he added.

Yet it certainly looks like a sign of the times that one of the biggest announcements made by any company at Berlin was Netflix’s unveiling, on the first day of the Berlin market, five new original series orders in Spain.

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