This year's Berlinale European Film Market (EFM), which opens today, is going to be bigger than ever before - but its chief is playing down its growth prospects once the American Film Market loses its February slot from 2005.

"We don't know what is coming. We cannot just assume that the market will expand next year. It is a question of 'if' rather than 'when'," said EFM head Beki Probst yesterday. "But we have to be ready for such growth."

It is widely expected within the industry and, especially among films sales companies, that expansion of the EFM will result from the AFM's shift to Autumn. But Probst says that she has not had conversations with sales companies from the US or Asia - the majority denizens of the AFM's rooms - about taking stands at the EFM in 2005.

Large numbers of new companies seeking stand space would pose logistical and space problems for the EFM. Probst said that EFM 2004 had sold all available stand space by mid-November.

Probst also said that the widely-talked about move away out its current location into new accommodation on the other side of Potsdamer Platz is far from certain. "We looked at a move into hotels, but are not keen," said Probst. "And we absolutely do not have to move out of this place. [Previous festival chief] Moritz De Hadeln signed a 20 year contract for the Debis hotel that started in 2000."

That contradicts previous suggestions emanating from the highest levels of the festival that Debis owner Mercedes was uncomfortable hosting part of an event that since last 2002 switched its principal sponsor to rival motor manufacturer Volkswagen.

Giving a berth for the first time to 16 films in its 'Straight From Sundance' section, the EFM is already at bursting point. Currently the EFM has 407 films registered that it will show in some 650 screenings. With these record numbers the EFM has been forced to use 19 screens, some borrowed from the Panorama, Retrospective and Kinderfilm sections. It has also had to put on more evening screenings.

Festival chief, Dieter Kosslick will tomorrow host a market-related lunch for exhibitors and selected buyers at which he is expected to fight shy of making specific commitments to EFM developments next year.

This echoes Probst's view that the constellation of organised film markets will only become clearer after Cannes this year. "Buyers say they will go where the films are and sellers tell us they will go with the buyers. It is a non-stop vicious circle," said Probst.