EFM 2023

Source: Lia Darjes / EFM 2023

EFM 2023

Record market attendance, headline acquisitions by Sony and ongoing interest in starry packages tell only part of the story of a busy European Film Market (EFM).  

An event brimming with late-arriving projects gave buyers plenty to consider and the mood was buoyant following what some had cited as the least productive AFM in decades last October.

“People had had a bit of a disappointing AFM in so many different ways, and everyone was ready,” said Ella Field, EVP of international sales at the UK’s Signature Entertainment, who described EFM as the most cost-effective market of the year. “Where there are great films, people will come, and there were some great projects around. Buyers were very positive and receptive, and that’s great to see, because it hasn’t necessarily been that way for a while.”

Sony pounced over the first weekend on worldwide rights to Kogonada’s fantasy romance A Big Bold Beautiful Journey to star Margot Robbie and Colin Farrell in a deal with 30West and CAA Media Finance reportedly in the $50m range.

The following day it picked up international rights to A24’s upcoming romantic comedy Materialist, Celine Song’s follow-up to Past Lives.

As the market closed, territory deals were expected on the Bob Odenkirk action title Normal sold by WME Independent, and Will Smith crime thriller Sugar Bandits, among others.

Stuart Ford’s AGC International is selling Sugar Bandits with CAA Media Finance and said that title, as well as Epiphany and The Mother, have been “thunderously good sellers”.

Ford added, “Whether it’s fuelled by just a wave of early year enthusiasm or whether this signals a genuine sea change in the marketplace we’ll see, but this EFM has definitely reached the high-volume deal-making standards of previous years for us.”

“It was busy,” agreed Stephen Keliher, managing director of the UK’s Bankside Films. “Everyone we planned to meet was there and it felt vibrant, although I do think the market was generally slower or more cautious than anyone might have predicted.

“We had a lot of pre-market meetings and a number of deals have been agreed in Berlin but we anticipate that it will go on until next week at the very least. It’s become the norm now for discussions to continue post market – for better or for worse! There were a lot of completed films screening in the market and many distributors are still reviewing the films because it was impossible to cover them all.”

Immediately prior to the market Paramount had paid $25m for North American rights to Robbie Williams musical biopic Better Man – a project that originated at the EFM in 2021 – in a deal with CAA Media Finance.

Hard to pull together

The bifurcation between the commercial A-list packages and everything else remains a challenge. Strong business on the bigger titles means it takes a while before buyers circle back to smaller projects, which remain hard to pull together – particularly those in the $10-12m range.

The decline of output deals and an ongoing reticence among local streamers to buy SVoD rights for select territories has tempered the buying power of theatrical independent buyers who typically want that pay-1 partner in place. Sales executives said acquisitions teams are now prepared to leave a market without buying smaller titles, or “programmers”; arthouse films are especially tough sells.

“Buyers are going after projects that are safe bets and are not looking to take the risks they did before the pandemic,” said Tatyana Joffe, president of international sales and distribution at XYZ Films.

Joffe, who reported a strong response from buyers and was closing territories on a slate which included William Kaufman’s sci-fi Osiris, added: “Buyers came with enthusiasm and that makes us all feel better about the market.”

Berlin-based Films Boutique said the team was fully booked with meetings for the whole week, talking about a slate that included completed festival titles, Ray Yeung’s All Shall Be Well and JJ Lin’s Brief History Of A Family as well as projects such as Agnieszka Holland’s Franz Kafka biopic Franz, shooting later this year. 

”Europe is traditionally a key market for us and this edition of the EFM confirmed that,” said Films Boutique’s head of sales Julien Razafindranaly. ”We can also confirm a particularly strong interest from North American buyers for our films, as well as some promising Lat Am sales, especially in the currently complicated market. Sales in Asia were a bit slower.”

Overall, sellers said they got to see everyone they wanted to see, although it was generally agreed buyers were in town for less time than five years ago, as has become the norm, post-pandemic. EFM reported while attendance reached an unprecedented 12,000, the number of attending buyers dropped marginally from 1,302 to 1,263.

Signature’s Field noted Italian buyers were out in force. “There are two new companies in Italy, my colleague Asia [Muci] has a great relationship with them,” she said. “They’re hungry, they’re ready to go, which is great for us.”

Producer Josh Rosenbaum of Ken Kao’s Waypoint Entertainment, which had Tilman Singer’s Cuckoo premiere in Berlinale Special, called attention to the rising cost of production across Europe.

“It’s requiring producers from around the world to work together in creative and flexible ways,” said Rosenbaum. “And it’s putting more pressure on national and regional governments to offer even better credits and rebates.”

Cuckoo shot in Germany and came together with funding support from regional funds Film-und Medienstiftung NRW and HessenFilm, as well as German Federal Film Fund (DFFF), and US distributor Neon. 

Rosenbaum said he is looking to structure a similar European partnership on two feature projects on Waypoint’s development slate with the goal of shooting this year.

Attendance from Asia at this year’s EFM painted a mixed picture. Numbers from key territories such as South Korea and Japan were strong, with more than 150 participants from each country delivering a string of buzzy new projects. These included K-Movie Entertainment’s The Roundup: Punishment, which closed sales in the US, Europe and Asia, and saw Korean star Don Lee walk the red carpet for the action film’s Berlinale Special Gala screening. There were also more than 60 attendees from Taiwan.

However, there were only around 100 participants from China and Hong Kong combined due to a clash with Chinese New Year and the imminent launch of Hong Kong Filmart, with major companies holding back projects for the launch of Asia’s largest content market on March 11. This did not stop the Hong Kong Film Development Council from launching a major fund in Berlin, designed to foster collaborations between the territory and Europe, and promoted by a delegation of three producers and two directors who were flown in to network and spread the word of the new scheme.

Next year


Source: BKM

Tricia Tuttle

Looking ahead to the arrival of Tricia Tuttle as festival director, the sellers to whom Screen spoke said they were generally happy with the EFM.

“We are pretty happy with the way things work in Berlin and don’t have any major issues we feel should be approved upon,” said Bankside’s Keliher. “Access to the market for those without a market badge seemed to be much more of a problem this year and that something we need a more straightforward solution for”.

“I wouldn’t mind a change in location, that’s primarily because of Potsdamer Platz,” said one sales agent who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“Berlin is such a rich city, it would be great to feel that culture a little bit more. It’s always great to have a refresh. Saying that, it does offer what we need. I think the dates are fine, the only issue is Chinese New Year. But you’ve got Filmart so close, it’s already pretty close to Cannes, it’s already pretty close to AFM. You can’t move it in that time frame.”

Films Boutique’s head of sales Julien Razafindranaly added:  ”One of the main challenges for the market, and it’s not a secret for anybody nor will it be either be an easy one to solve, but the lack of screens and decline in seating capacities at Potsdamer Platz is everyone’s concern. The technical quality of the screening and comfort of cinemas is excellent but we’ve heard buyers complain about the difficulty to arrange their calendar in an ever more packed screening schedule, particularly as many distributors only send limited delegations to Berlin.”


A further change on the horizon could be the proposed move of the American Film Market from Santa Monica to Las Vegas.

While some sales agents contacted by Screen said anywhere was better than Santa Monica, where costs run high and market venues are strung out across the city, AGC’s Ford pointedly disagreed.

“Ridiculous. It would be overall much more expensive for everybody except the organisers and will drain the event of any personality.

Ford continued, “If the IFTA board can’t find an effective way to host what’s a small- to medium-sized trade fair in the second biggest city in America with all of its hotels and infrastructure – not to mention it’s the world capital of the industry – then let’s not bother with AFM. There are others ways to go about our business.”

Signature’s Field was in favour of heading to Nevada. “I think it’s great, I’m all for it. It has great restaurants, great shows, there’s a great level of entertainment you can enjoy with your clients.

“A lot of people have to stop in LA to fly to Vegas, so I don’t think it’s a massive thing [the issue of not being able to roll in LA meetings at the same time as attending AFM]. We can’t have it all, you’re never going to satisfy everyone. It’s close enough to still feed that purpose.”

Another sales agent added, “If it’s a good hotel with good screening facilities with everything in one place, then it will make life easier for buyers. Not as easy to have off-market LA meetings but I guess one could do that on the way or way back.”

Anna Krupnova, director and co-founder at Reason8, was also keen. “I am very happy with the move if that happens. Location is good, many other trade shows and events have now moved to Vegas, the infrastructure is there and if the deal is right and all the facilities are available to satisfy the needs of sellers and buyers, then AFM would be a massive success with this come back in 2024.”

As one seller put it, “Whatever happens, wherever it goes, the key is that we all – buyers and sellers – stay together.”