International buyers are looking forward to this year’s Asian Film Market (Oct 11-14) as a place to do business with their Asian colleagues.

The organisers of the fourth annual Asian Film Market are determined to grow the event steadily as part of a bigger blueprint in which the Pusan International Film Festival supports, develops, screens and helps the distribution of films in Asia.

However, in the global economic downturn, international sellers are finding it more difficult to travel and juggle events. Celluloid Dreams, which was previously announced to attend, has opted out of its sales office.

“I began my career as a producer in Pusan and the Asian Film Market and over the years, I’ve concluded many deals through Pusan”

Michelle Yeh, producer

“We decided in the end not to go because there is less business for us in Asia these days,” explains Violaine Pichon, a member of Celluloid’s international sales team. “Between AFM, Toronto and MIP, we have too many markets to attend. We’ve decided to focus on Rome and London for the moment rather than go to Pusan. We will go to Tiffcom as usual, as well as Hong Kong Filmart.”

“Sales companies around the world are feeling the crunch,” says Kini Kim, CJ Entertainment’s senior vice-president of sales, US and Europe. “In Toronto, we saw everyone we needed to, all our important contacts. But we saw fewer of the smaller buyers who used to shop around and of course the less specific indie label arms of major distributors are no longer around. It even felt like there were fewer Korean buyers. We’ll see how that affects Pusan.”

The Korean distributor did a slew of sales on titles including The Good, The Bad, The Weird and Secret Sunshine at last year’s Piff.

Convenient timing

Although the autumn calendar is packed to bursting, Pusan’s festival and market dates are not necessarily a clash for those buyers who pick and choose. “This year’s market is actually a pretty convenient time for me between Toronto and AFM to catch up with the Korean and other Asian film-makers and companies who attend,” says Chan Phung, manager, acquisitions, at Focus Features.

“We thought twice about Pusan, since last year was slow. But we have a big title in the festival, A Good Husband, so it made sense to be in the market”

Tadayuki Okubo, Toei Company

By mid-September, 309 buyers from 233 companies in 29 countries had registered to attend the Asian Film Market. These include Magnolia Pictures and The Weinstein Company from the US, France’s Diaphana Distribution, India’s Star Entertainment, SPO from Japan and Bona International from China. “The list looks better than last year,” suggests CJ’s Kim. “People have less buying power now, but they make choices. Instead of going to see three films, you can opt for two really good ones.

Fortunately for us, we’ve had strong titles last year and this, so it’s actually been better. And we’ve been dealing with solid companies in each territory.”
The Asian Film Market has the advantage of running concurrent with the Pusan film festival and PPP.

Michelle Yeh, the producer of Taiwanese hits Formula 17 and Invitation Only, who is now based in Beijing, says: “I began my career as a producer in Pusan
and the Asian Film Market and over the years, I’ve concluded many deals through Pusan. This year, with all the exciting changes in the Greater China market, I’m happy to return to share new directions and co-production plans.”

Tadayuki Okubo, manager, international sales, at Japan’s Toei Company says: “We thought twice about Pusan, since last year was slow. But we’re presenting a big title in the festival -A Good Husband -so it made sense to be in the market. It’s been a year since the global economic crisis [set in], so we hope things will be better. At least the Korean industry should be better than last year.”

Young market

Around 80 companies from 25 countries will be opening 45 sales offices at the market this year. In addition to all the Korean sales companies, exhibitors this year include Scandinavian sales company TrustNordisk and Golden Network Asia from Hong Kong.

“The market is still at a very young stage, and not the same as the Hong Kong Filmart or Tiffcom, which have TV and other contents as well as film,” says Nam Dong-chul, general manager of the Asian Film Market. “But attending the Pusan film festival has its advantages and people are loyal to that.

This is a time for us to invest and to listen to feedback.” To this end, the market has consolidated the formerly split venues of the PPP and sales offices, and added registration incentives. It is also holding the first Mini EAVE (European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs) workshop, with seminars dealing with subjects such as the European market and Asia-Europe co-productions.

The Busan International Film Commission & Industry Showcase (Bifcom) will open October 12-14 at the Paradise Hotel on Haeundae Beach, with seminars
including one examining case studies of worldwide locations for US productions such as James Cameron’s Avatar, which shot partly in New Zealand for 20th Century Fox, and Paramount Pictures’ Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, which shot some scenes in Jordan.