Flash back to last year's European Film Market (EFM) in Berlin, and 2007 was the year the EFM came of age.

Significant deals were made as Berlin moved beyond its image as the market for festival-driven arthouse titles and proved it can also work for genre fare.

Last year Picturehouse picked up Spanish horror film The Orphanage while The Weinstein Company bought Morgan Spurlock's Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden'

Key buyers who once would have bypassed the Berlinale were in attendance.

The decision of French company Wild Bunch to set up its own offices outside the official EFM, on wasteland between the Martin-Gropius-Bau (where the EFM is held) and Potsdamer Platz (the centre of the festival), added a whiff of controversy to an event already far livelier than the EFM of old.

Early signs are that 2008's EFM will prove equally important. After an AFM, at which, according to many, there was a paucity of product on offer and far more discussion of future projects than actual deal-making, and a Sundance which only latterly picked up momentum, buyers have slates to fill.

The ongoing writers' strike in Hollywood may encourage them to acquire even more aggressively. After all, there is likely to be a shortage of US product later in the year.

'On the sales side, (the WGA strike) might be good news for us,' says Pathe executive vice-president Francois Ivernel of sales prospects for the EFM. 'If there is less product from America, obviously, there will be more space for European films. On the acquisition side, I suppose some product will be missing from the market.'

'In theory, it ought to be a sellers' market because there is a shortage of commercial projects in the market right now. That's partly because of the writers' strike. We have all had projects in development that have been in limbo,' says Summit International president David Garrett.

'Berlin is now a true international market,' Ivernel says. 'I don't think it is there yet completely as Cannes or the AFM, but it is in the same league. You don't have every buyer in the world but you have most of the key buyers.'

Pathe Distribution, which buys rights for both the UK and France, will be looking to acquire new titles during the EFM while its sales arm is presenting several projects to buyers, among them Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, Christophe Barratier's Paris 36 and Jon Harris' The Descent 2 (which the first film's director Neil Marshall will be producing).

'Berlin is becoming more important,' says Natalie Brenner, head of sales for London-based Ealing Studios International. 'I've been speaking to buyers in the past few days.

They've come back from Sundance. They've been to Rotterdam and they have had their French screenings - and it doesn't feel there is an awful lot going on. It feels to me that Berlin should be quite buzzy. Buyers are going to be itchy and ready to buy things.'

Ealing's slate includes the comedy St Trinian's (which has been a substantial box-office hit in the UK, earning $22.5m to date) as well as Richard Eyre's The Other Man, starring Liam Neeson and Antonio Banderas, and Tom Hooper's The Damned United, written by Peter Morgan.

Meanwhile, the presence in competition of Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky (handled by Summit) suggests even film-makers who once preferred to take their projects to Cannes or Venice are now happy to see them in Berlin. Several major territories remain available on Happy-Go-Lucky (being billed as one of Leigh's cheerier, more upbeat offerings) including the US.

Alongside Happy-Go-Lucky, Summit is showing new promo footage of John Woo's Mandarin-language Red Cliff. It will also be giving first market screenings to The Great Buck Howard (fresh from its Sundance premiere); Jeff Wadlow's Never Back Down (billed as 'a Fight Club for teens'), Step Up 2 The Streets and, possibly, Nim's Island, starring Jodie Foster.

'For us, (Berlin) is extremely important. We're showcasing a lot of our new movies for the first time to our buyers,' says Garrett.

'[Berlin] is a big moment for people to bring new projects and to screen films,' suggests Alexandra Rossi, vice-president of European/Latin American acquisitions and co-productions at New Line Cinema. 'There are so many festivals in the fall, that there aren't any new movies to screen by the time you get to AFM.'

Her remarks are echoed by Wouter Barendrecht of Fortissimo Films, the company selling this year's opening film, Martin Scorsese's Rolling Stones documentary Shine A Light. 'Berlin has always been a key market for our films, and in the last years even more so. With the timing (beginning of the year) and with AFM moving to the fall, it has gained in importance,' he says. 'The number of buyers and sellers has increased and a bigger variety of buyers has started attending Berlin.'

All the main US buyers are expected to be in attendance. As Joy Wong of London-based The Works points out, the EFM also continues to attract smaller European buyers who do not travel to the North American markets and festivals. The Works' EFM line-up is headlined by James Marsh's Twin Towers documentary Man On Wire and Shane Meadows' medium-length Somers Town, which is screening in Generations. 'People are hopefully ready to shop in Berlin,' Wong says.

Still, some urge caution. Despite the success of Juno and Atonement late in 2007, buyers are still mindful of how many high-profile arthouse titles failed to perform at the US box office last year. There are hints, too, that Berlin is becoming increasingly expensive. 'In the past, Berlin was a very affordable festival' says Rossi. 'Little by little, Berlin has got as expensive as all the other festivals.'

According to some Berlin attendees, hotels are hiking up prices for the EFM and insisting visitors book for the entire duration of the festival. The Gropius-Bau, too, is far from cheap. 'It is probably slightly less expensive than in Cannes, but in Cannes everybody is there,' says a long-time EFM attendee, who grumbles about the cost of hiring plasma screens and DVD players for his booth. Space in the Gropius-Bau is at a premium.

And there are new competitors to face. 'HAF/Filmart for sure promises to be very busy this year,' notes Barendrecht of the fast-rising Hong Kong event in March. 'It's become a real market, ever since HAF and Filmart joined forces.'

This year will see few Hong Kong and Chinese companies in Berlin as the event falls during Chinese New Year. However, Korean and Japanese attendees are expected to be out in force. Meanwhile, some companies continue to complain about the diffuse nature of the EFM: it is an event spread over halls, hotels and screening rooms during one of the coldest periods in the year. Others, though, find it a convenient place to do business.

'The Hyatt is a great place for a meeting,' says Pathe's Ivernel. 'Berlin feels like a market with a proper centre. The screening rooms in the cinemas around are very convenient and very good quality.'

'There was an attempt to turn the whole international market into a two-market year,' Summit's Garrett notes of the AFM's switch of dates and the disappearance of Mifed. 'I'm very glad that didn't happen. Berlin has, for us, become an essential market.'