The Berlin Film Festival’s European Film Market is gearing up for its second virtual edition with an improved online infrastructure for exhibiting companies and a wide-ranging conference program that focuses on a transforming industry and the changes that are shaping its future.

For Dennis Ruh, who took over as EFM director in 2020, it’s the second market that has been forced online due to the pandemic — a disappointing development after physical space at the Gropius Bau and Marriott Hotel, the event’s main venues, had been nearly completely booked.

“The biggest challenge was to switch from a hybrid to an online event — to make this decision,” says Ruh.

With Germany and much of Europe hit by the Omicron onslaught in December and January, a physical event was no longer feasible. “We had to make this decision by the beginning of January and that was not an easy one,” he says.

EFM organizers had a fallback plan in place and the online part of the festival, initially planned as a hybrid event, was already prepared, Ruh adds. The market also fine tuned its rights management for online screenings to make them more convenient for rights holders while also making improvements to its online infrastructure and digital services.

Nonetheless, the decision to go virtual for a second time was met with mixed reaction from the industry, Ruh notes. “Most of our exhibitors and participants understand the decision, but at the same time it’s different from last year when we had a lockdown in Germany and the festival didn’t take place at the same time as the market.”

This year, the festival is taking place on site, with industry guests and filmmakers set to attend under strict safety measures. That has allowed the EFM to accommodate a few local film distributors and industry reps by working with the festival to offer limited industry screenings, in part because festival screenings themselves will have 50% reduced seating capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“That’s why we felt, with the number of industry delegates traveling to Berlin, it’s necessary to also have this offer for the industry and to provide some meeting space at the festival,” says Ruh.

Shaping Change

Organizers and industry delegates hope to finally meet in person next year if things return to “normal,” but the sector is in the midst of transformation. New technologies are rapidly transforming production and distribution and how content is consumed by audiences. The latest developments and the sector’s evolution will be examined at this year’s EFM Industry Sessions, titled “Shaping Change,” which will focus on three core themes: the future, sustainable development, and diversity and inclusion.

“It’s obvious that the industry is changing right now and we don’t need to discuss that; it is changing. But we can act as an industry to actively shape this change, in a way, and that’s why we are focusing in all our conference programs on the change.”

Among the topics to be discussed are the current challenges facing distributors, many of whom still have backlogs of films to be released; the continuing impact of the pandemic, such as a reluctance to return to cinemas; and how the crisis has accelerated trends that were already reshaping the distrib sector.

The conference program, which also covers the Berlinale Series Market, comprises four sections: “Producers,” “Distribution,” “Documentary” and “Series.”

Guest speakers and participants at this year’s Industry Sessions include Danish writer-director Lone Scherfig and Argentine filmmaker Daniel Burman, who will discuss their new respective series, “The Shift” and “Iosi, el espía arrepentido.”

The growing call for major streaming services to commit to investing in local markets is another major topic, while the conference will also offer a look at the TV series landscape in Africa, where female creators are playing a significant role.

A showcase of the latest German series, “Up Next: Germany,” presents current and upcoming shows like comedy “Greenlight – German Genius”; “Kleo,” an action series about an East German Stasi agent; “Munich Match,” a German-Israeli thriller centering on a possible threat to a friendly game 50 years after the 1972 Munich Olympics terrorist attack; and the high-end documentary series “Reeperbahn Special Unit 65.”

Among the networking round tables and organized meetings will be the Berlinale Co-Production Market’s Co-Pro Series pitch meetings, which are also part of the Berlinale Series Market program.

On the issues of diversity and sustainable development, Ruh stresses that the industry is doing considerably more in these areas and the results are visible. He points to the New Dawn international fund launched last year by the Netherlands Film Fund and the Swedish Film Institute to support marginalized film creatives. There are systemic changes taking place, he adds.

The EFM is also expanding its Toolbox program, which provides “a toolkit of business connections and know-how” for filmmakers and producers from underrepresented groups and the Global South. In its third year, the Doc Toolbox Program will include 28 participants and their projects. The Fiction Toolbox Program debuts this year with 13 participants and projects.

The EFM’s Market Badge Inclusion Initiative similarly helps connect film professionals from across the globe to the EFM and the industry at large.

Some 600 companies are exhibiting at this year’s online EFM edition, up from the 504 that took part in last year’s market and in line with previous years. In 2020, the EFM hosted 564 exhibitors.

The EFM runs from Feb. 10-17.