The Berlinale kicked off in fine style with Martin Scorsese's Rolling Stones documentary Shine A Light, but the general consensus - at least for buyers - was that this year the festival line-up was upstaged by the market.
The focus turned to the European Film Market (EFM) following a perceived lack of mainstream appeal in festival entries and the fact that a number of Competition titles had been viewed in advance or pre-sold, including Golden Bear winner The Elite Squad (The Weinstein Company).
"Freshness guaranteed," EFM chief Beki Probst had promised early in the market and her words were borne out as all the major sales companies reported strong business. Buyers were buzzing about titles being pre-sold at the market, which has now graduated into an event where big new US titles are having their first airing for buyers. Steven Soderbergh and Oliver Stone were in town to talk up their films in the market, not the festival. Soderbergh was with his two-picture Che Guevera biopic at Wild Bunch, Stone had his George Bush film, Bush, at QED.
And Paramount Vantage International created a flurry of interest going into the market with select territories being offered on Martin Scorsese's upcoming thriller Shutter Island, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Big prices were paid on that film for Germany, Spain and Italy - territories in which Paramount does not yet have its own post-UIP/PPI operations - although the studio refused to name the distributors. Scorsese also announced a new Bob Marley documentary, on offer at Fortissimo, which was drumming up swift sales.
Other hot titles in the market included Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell at Mandate which Universal bought for much of the world and Alex Proyas' Knowing at Summit, although that film goes through Summit's own output deals in select territories.
Although many Hong Kong and Chinese companies did not attend Berlin due to the Chinese New Year holiday, the regular contingent of Japanese and Korean buyers and sellers reported brisk business, with CJ Entertainment sealing a four-picture deal with Germany's Splendid.
Three-market calendar questioned
However, the heads of two of the biggest US sales companies are challenging the business viability of the EFM, calling for a return to the two-market calendar.
"For a variety of reasons, Berlin has now turned into a fully-fledged market. I just don't understand why we need to be here," says Jere Hausfater, CEO of Essential Entertainment. "There's not enough time after AFM with closing deals and Thanksgiving and the end of year holidays and Sundance to get new product ready for Berlin. The solution is to go back to two markets. Having the market here at this time is very challenging from a timing point of view."
Rising hotel and market costs have also fuelled gripes, not helped by the weak US dollar.
"There needs to be some control over the cost," says Lisa Wilson, president of Hyde Park International, who adds that her suite in the same hotel had shot up 20% on last year. "We don't want to feel like we're being gouged. From Hyde Park's point of view, two markets a year would be fine, but it should be said that we understand that for the smaller companies who can't sell their product as easily over the phone, that might not be such a good thing."
Icon International chief Ariel Veneziano agrees the timing of EFM is poor and but suggests keeping three markets by moving AFM to September and tying it in with the Toronto film festival. "The concept of a market as we know it is soon going to be a thing of the past," Veneziano says. "Events like AFM that are not tied to a major international festival are going to become harder to justify for buyers and sellers alike as a business opportunity."
The Weinstein Company international distribution president Glen Basner disagrees: "We need three markets a year and we, as sellers, need to do a better job of making sure we have a consistent flow of new product in the market place."
And Alison Thompson, president of Focus International, says: "I'm a great supporter of EFM. The industry should continue to support a three-market calendar."
Smaller US sales companies on the whole advocate three markets a year and favour keeping EFM in place. "I have to have face-time with my buyers," says Lightning Entertainment's Richard Guardian, who was selling festival hit Hey Hey It's Esther Blueburger. "I'm not a big company and I need to take the opportunity to see them whenever I can."
European sales companies tend to disagree with Hausfater and Wilson. "There have always been three markets," says one. "We never had just two markets, we always had Mifed as well. And if you take away EFM, something else will come along and take its place. It is more expensive for US sellers to come over but on the flip side it's more expensive for us to go to AFM. EFM is a really well run market and Berlin is a great city."
As for EFM chief Beki Probst, she called on history to attest to Berlin's growth: "The EFM moved into the Martin Gropius Bau (MGB) in 2006 as a result of AFM changing its dates and Mifed no longer existing. At the time, we made all the necessary preparations in order to withstand any expected problems. We even found offices for the 70 US companies who didn't have room in the MGB and we found them offices in Potsdamer Platz 11. Now in the third year, the number of requests, particularly out of the US, has not got any smaller. We are prepared for any development in the future."
For his part, festival director Dieter Kosslick is considering a later start to the EFM next year. "All markets are too long," he says. "We should have the market not beginning until Friday or Saturday. The time is then better synchronised with the festival."
These considerations come after the EFM this year was, to all in intents and purposes, winding down on Tuesday and was very quiet from Wednesday onwards.
[s19] See Berlin reviews, p20-23
BERLIN WINNERS 2008
Golden Bear: The Elite Squad by Jose Padilha (Brazil) Alfred Bauer Prize: Lake Tahoe by Fernando Eimbcke (Mexico) Grand Jury Prize: Standard Operating Procedure by Errol Morris (US) Silver Bear, best direction: Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will be Blood, US) Silver Bear, best actress: Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky, UK-US) Silver Bear, best actor: Reza Najie (The Song Of Sparrows, Iran) Silver Bear, best screenplay: In Love We Trust by Wang Xiaoshuai (China) Silver Bear for outstanding artistic contribution: Jonny Greenwood, composer (There Will be Blood, US) Best first feature film award: Asyl - Park And Love Hotel, by Kumasaka Izuru (Japan).