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Buyers leave EFM with deals despite slow festival

A largely uninspiring festival selection did not dampen spirits at the market, where attendees reported robust business with one eye on the prospect of great riches to come in Cannes.

Wild Bunch world sales chief Vincent Maraval noted the lack of excitement over the competition line-up. “[The Berlinale] is like a local festival and an international market,” Maraval said, adding that the EFM was “very strong.”

The Berlin market’s slot in the calendar has always created challenges for US-based sales companies on the lookout for new material so soon after the AFM, holiday season and Sundance, so the few truly commercial locomotives – including several previously announced titles that were made available for the first time in Berlin – prospered among cautious buyers eager to fill 2012 slots.

The lack of a domestic distributor nowadays does not necessarily consign an attractive project to oblivion. “America is valueless,” proclaimed Paul Brett of UK financier Prescience during a market panel on pre-sales, and if that may seem like a sweeping statement there was plenty of international rights trading on the headline titles to bear it out, at least in part.

FilmNation had arguably the biggest title of the EFM from across the Atlantic and sold out its Gambit remake starring Oscar frontrunner Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz. Buyers flocked to IM Global’s Sylvester Stallone heavyweight Headshot and Madonna’s W.E. and Exclusive Films International’s Miley Cyrus vehicle So Undercover. At time of writing none had a domestic deal in place, although buyers are circling.

Summit International drew heavy interest on the notion of Red 2 and pushed its new Emma Watson starrer The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. The other top draws were Parlay Films’ Bradley Cooper drama The Words, Hyde Park International’s Echelon with Jason Statham attached, Essential Entertainment’s John Woo remake The Killer and Lakeshore and Sierra / Affinity’s Amanda Seyfried thriller Gone.

The international favourites included StudioCanal’s African Safari 3D, Wild Bunch’s 360 from Fernando Meirelles, Pathe International’s Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, Bankside’s The Caller and You Instead, Metropolis’ Sundance hit The Guard [pictured], Fortissimo’s Bob Marley documentary as well as its Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Tianjin Film Studio’s 3D animation Legend Of A Rabbit and CJ Entertainment’s sea creature thriller Sector 7.

Berlin is not the place where US buyers typically get their wallets out but there was trade. The Weinsteins acquired Ralph Fiennes’ competition entry Coriolanus and Magnolia struck a three-film deal with TrustNordisk for Lars von Trier’s Melancholia and the Norwegian pair of Headhunters and Sundance award winner Happy, Happy.

FilmDistrict and Miramax announced they were partnering on the US release of EFM screener Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark and a deal was expected on Asghar Farhadi’s widely admired Golden Bear contender Nader And Simin, A Separation.

The age of austerity has bred invention and by necessity people are becoming more open-minded about opportunities. Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Productions acquired domestic rights to Wong Kar-Wai’s Grandmasters and will seek a distribution partner, the latest example of a growing trend whereby producers have shown a willingness to snap up rights to a fancied product and engage in the logistics of releasing it once the acquisition has closed.

In Sundance last month Mickey Liddell and Participant Media made similar plays for Silent House and Circumstance, respectively, while Steven Rales’ Indian Paintbrush jointly acquired Like Crazy with Paramount.

During the Berlinale, Celluloid Dreams announced it was partnering on a slate of high-end specialty films with Echo Lake and Blue Ice Entertainment’s new Blue Lake Entertainment fund, while Icon Entertainment International struck an eight-film deal with genre wunderkind James Wan.

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