A handful of marquee titles shone as sales agents and acquisitions teams offered differing views from a busy if not always hyper-productive market that saw the cautious return of Japanese buyers.

While some sales agents struggled to refresh their slates after an unexpectedly commercial Toronto for the overseas arena, others were able to hold back premium projects for Santa Monica.

Among the most sought after titles on show were Lionsgate’s potential young adult franchise The Hunger Games, IM Global’s trio of nature-oriented films from the BBC and Reliance led by Walking With Dinosaurs 3D, Summit International’s thriller Man On A Ledge and Inferno Entertainment’s crime caper Cogan’s Trade to star Brad Pitt.

There was high interest too in The Weinstein Company’s space thriller Apollo 18, Fusion Films’ Odd Thomas, Hyde Park International’s Ghost Rider 2, Affinity International’s Drive and Exclusive’s George Clooney political drama The Ides Of March.

Buyers continue to be wary of all but the most commercial fare, although they have slots to fill in 2011 and beyond and need to throw their hat in sooner or later. Top sales agents confirmed they had concluded deals with the likes of Shochiku and Pony Canyon in Japan.

The corridors of the Loews bristled with activity but packed meeting schedules don’t necessarily translate into sales. Asking prices were high for the locomotives, with Lionsgate said to be touting The Hunger Games for $8m in Germany and IM Global reportedly expecting UK buyers to stump up $10m for Walking With Dinosaurs 3D.

Sales agents and producers face challenges in assembling financing but the calibre of the more commercial fare at AFM and the level of interest that surrounds them speaks volumes about the ambition that permeates the independent sector.

Brad Pitt and George Clooney add lustre to any market and indicate a willingness in the sector to take on the studios at their own game. Domestic buyers liked what they saw as Lonsgate swooped on three films from IM Global led by Dredd and fledgling distributor FilmDistrict picked up Drive with Ryan Gosling and Lockout starring Guy Pearce.

The studios’ international acquisitions units scoured the ground, attending around a dozen presentations from directors including Clooney (The Ides Of March), Stephen Sommers (Odd Thomas), Rodrigo Cortes (Red Lights) and Randall Wallace (Love And Honor: The Mercenary).