Back as a fully in-person event for the first time since 2019, the Asian Contents & Film Market is adapting to new realities in the marketplace. 

Asian Contents & Film Market

Source: Courtesy of BIFF

Asian Contents & Film Market

In South Korea, the 17th Asian Contents & Film Market (ACFM) is set to run October 8-11 as the first fully in-person market Busan has held since the start of the Covid‑19 pandemic.

With Hong Kong Filmart and Tokyo-based market Tiffcom continuing to run online-only this year, Busan has become a focal point for anyone doing business in Asia. ACFM is also adapting its format as the boundaries blur between film and series, expanding its previous E-IP market and relaunching it as the Busan Story Market (BSM).

“Asia-based people are excited about going to Busan. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other in person,” says Yunjeong Kim, director at Korean sales company Finecut. “Even at Cannes this year, there were a lot of Europeans, but aside from some from Taiwan, there was maybe one company per country.

“Busan is a good place to discover new directors,” Kim continues. “We are looking forward to seeing more European film festival programmers than last year, and hope they discover some new filmmakers. As for buyers, it will be good to show them new and upcoming films, as well as films that premiered elsewhere and/or about to open in theatres, in-person after such a long time.”

As of September 19 when online market registration closed, organisers reported 1,960 badge registrations from 49 countries and 1,058 companies. Of these, 1,582 badges are for physical participants and 378 are for online only. The total is about 300 more total registrations than at the same period in 2019, the last event before the pandemic.

ACFM will have a record nine national or umbrella stands from China, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines, Mongolia, the UK, European Film Promotion (EFP)/Unifrance and South Korea. Hong Kong Trade Development Council is also opening a stand in Busan for the first time.

“The Busan International Film Festival and the Asian Contents and Film Market are annual key events in East Asia for EFP,” says Sonja Heinen, managing director, EFP. “The festival and the market have always given special exposure to European films. Reconnecting with the Asian industry in person is also overdue for many sales agents.”

EFP’s joint stand with Unifrance will host 28 sales agents onsite and 11 more online. “The booth is a well-established business and networking platform for European sellers and Asian buyers in Busan.”

Daniel Kim, ACFM general manager, notes physical participation from China has been difficult due to ongoing Covid-19 restrictions. Chinese companies such as iQiyi and Huayi Brothers Media Corp­oration are participating online only, although the likes of Rediance and China Film Co-­Production Corporation will be onsite.

Other companies on the ground include the usual raft of Korean companies, such as CJ, Lotte, Contents Panda and Finecut; Japan’s Shochiku, Toho, Toei and Nikkatsu; Hong Kong’s Edko Films and Taiwan’s Moviecloud; Thailand’s Sahamongkolfilm International and Purin Pictures; and Singapore’s mm2 Entertainment and Clover Films.

European participants include Denmark’s TrustNordisk; Germany’s Splendid Film; mk2 Films, Kino­logy, Pyramide International and Reel Suspects from France; and the UK’s Terracotta Distribution and Protagonist Pictures. US attendance will include A24 and Annapurna Pictures.

“As one of the biggest distributors for Asian content in Germany and Benelux, Busan was always an important market for us,” says Marko Möllers, acquisition executive at Splendid Film. “With the upcoming busy AFM in November, ACFM always gives us time to meet all our Asian friends and partners before. It’s our first trip to Asia since the pandemic and with the [online only] Hong Kong Filmart for the moment, it is even more important to go to ACFM this year.”

Mollers is also looking forward to seeing new footage from titles he pre-bought during the last few years. “Of course we are looking for the next Train To Busan or the next big action title, but we want to try more different things in the future. With the buzz on Korean content after the success of Parasite and Squid Game, the western world is more open to watching Asian content,” he says, adding that Splendid is launching an AVoD fast channel via Freevee for Asian cinema, due to the growing popularity of Asian content and the rise of OTT platforms.

In the Zone

Launching this year at ACFM is the Festival Zone, where five other Korean festivals — including Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN) and DMZ International Documentary Film Festival (DMZ Docs) — will be able to promote their industry programmes and projects, and take meetings.

Partnered with Taiwan Creative Content Agency (TAICCA) and Japan’s Visual Industry Promotion Organization (VIPO), BSM comprises any intellectual property such as books, webtoons (online comics), web novels, games and stories. Instead of selecting a lineup and facilitating meetings as with the E-IP market, ACFM will now let content providers do business directly through their sales booths.

“The supply and demand for original IPs is so great that we decided to simply provide the space for them to meet,” says Daniel Kim. “Film sellers and buyers do business without our involvement, and it’s the same for content providers at BSM now.”

The market has already attracted streamers such as Disney+, Net­flix, Watcha and Apple TV+ to meet with Korean publishers including Kyobo Book Centre, Minumsa and Munhakdongne and webtoon and web novel companies such as Daewon CI, Lico, Toomics, Munpia and Story­wiz. Also attending are film and TV production and post-production companies such as Barunson E&A, CJ ENM, Dexter Studios, Megabox Plus M, Studio Dragon, Studio LuluLala and MBC, alongside Hollywood talent management companies such as UTA, WME and CAA.

Additional services will include legal consultations and seminars from the Korea Entertainment Law Society. “For instance, if you’re dealing with remake rights, you have to think about how to split the rights on future as-yet-to-be-created technology — such as streaming was in the past — in different countries,” explains Kim. “A lot of content-­creator companies are small and can get taken advantage of, so we are providing this service to help.”

Anyone participating in the market can avail themselves of the service, although rights-holders will get priority within the given timeframes. The market will also provide translation for these consultations.

After a pandemic hiatus, Busan’s support programmes have been revived and gathered under the umbrella of the ACFM. This includes the Asian Cinema Fund (ACF), which this year selected 13 films out of 521 submissions. Of these, three projects supported by ACF’s script development fund for feature-length independent films will also participate in the Asian Project Market (APM):

Iranian director Raha Amirfazli’s In The Land Of Brothers, Malaysian director Putri Purnama Sugua’s Life I Stole and Rohin Raveendran Nair’s Smart City from India.

With four new awards this year, APM also selected 26 other titles including Soldier Of Love from Kazakh director Farkhat Sharipov, whose Skhema won the Generation 14plus grand prize at this year’s Berlinale, and My Kabuliwala, to be co-­directed by India’s Balaka Ghosh and Afghanistan’s Sahraa Karimi. The latter’s debut feature Hava, Maryam, Ayesha premiered at Venice in 2019.

ACFM also hosts Platform Busan for emerging independent filmmakers based in Asia. The programme includes Filmmaker’s Talks with Rithy Panh and Wang Bing, case studies on the distribution of European films in Asia, informational seminars and networking opportunities.