If anything concrete could be learned from this year's MIFED it was that the jury is still out on whether the Milan event should be replaced as the pre-eminent movie market of the autumn.

And there was even less consensus among buyers and sellers over whether their business calendar should be concentrated around three, or simply two, evenly-spaced convention-style screening events.

This year's MIFED was something of a curate's egg - soft in parts, slightly firmer in others. Some high-profile deals did emerge, notably Focus Features selling its three top titles to Germany's Constantin Film, flying in the face of that territory's rights-buying turmoil. But overall the market was as subdued an affair as in recent years, despite a practically non-existent London Screenings the week before.

Indeed for many players, MIFED ended up being as much about putting together next year's films through international financing partnerships as it was about selling the ones on their current slate.

Not surprisingly, this mixed market atmosphere only heightened discussions about MIFED itself. At press-time, the membership of AFMA, the trade organisation that represents a large number of sales companies, was getting together in Milan for what it described as a regularly-scheduled survey of the independent film marketplace at large.

The matter of whether to move AFMA's American Film Market to October - essentially eliminating MIFED from the market merry-go-round - was not on the official meeting agenda, although it was clearly uppermost in the minds of everyone attending. "It's a major issue and one we have to discuss," said one AFMA board member, who preferred to remain nameless, on the eve of the get-together. "We must move to a two-market calendar."

"If we had a choice, if AFM moved, we would not come to MIFED," said Alliance Atlantis' Victor Loewy. "They screwed us over with the stand. There is no tradition of customer relations." Others, however, said that action would prove much more difficult than words. "Politically it's impossible," said Solo Entertainment Group's Christian Halsey Solomon. "The Europeans will always have MIFED."

In fact, opinions about MIFED's future were confoundingly divided, and not necessarily along geographical lines. Among the Europeans, French sales companies, as represented by their country's exporters association ADEF, felt angry enough about the quality of services in Milan and poor screening slots this year to consider supporting any AFM switch - having earlier agreed to support a London boycott.

Likewise, Scandinavia's newly-formed sales federation, Viking Export, was also favouring an autumn market in Santa Monica over one in Milan, but saw in Berlin's European Film Market in February a natural replacement for the spring slot. "Like the Germans, we want three markets a year - Berlin, Cannes and an autumn AFM," said Viking president Ann-Kristin Westerberg on Wednesday in Milan. "Berlin is a good market but currently suffers from the presence of the AFM."

The North Americans seemed as split on the matter as the British, with some fretting about too many markets in their calendar, others concerned that any reduction in events would disturb the natural buying rhythms. All seemed happy, however, that last week's London Screenings had been forced to retrench to its informal roots.

But even if the Europeans and Americans come out against MIFED, there is also the Asian contingent to consider . Said Yvonne Tan of Malaysia's Golden Screen "MIFED is full to bursting with Asian buyers and sellers. A move to the AFM at this time of year would not help us."

"Cannes and AFM work best for the A-list American titles. MIFED is particularly efficient for TV and video sales," noted E-Pictures' Paul Yi.

Representing the opposite argument was Jennifer Muhn, head of sales at South Korean studio giant Cinema Service, still bruising after seeing their office broken into on Monday night. "I think the Italians are having their revenge for Korea beating them in the World Cup. They have mislaid our prints, there have been other organisational mistakes - and security issues."

Whatever gets discussed regarding MIFED, response to this year's event was mixed. "It's been a very strange market," said Lisa Wilson, distribution chief at Splendid Pictures, who is personally in favour of moving the AFM. "How can you have a market in four days' London has gone but we're still at a four-day market here, so I've had no time to reschedule follow-up meetings and most of the buyers will be out of here by Wednesday. The market mantra was Hello, how are you doing, when are you leaving'"

MIFED organisers were not immune to this point, and are now planning to extend next year's market by an extra day. The new schedule would see MIFED maintain its newly popular Saturday screenings, while the market will run through to Friday. "In that way", says MIFED product manager Elena Lloyd, "we would be able to offer clients an extra 162 screenings."

Complaints were numerous and inevitable - the new layout of the market, the confusing signage, the distances required to walk from meeting to meeting, not to mention some thefts from stands.

Print handling at the event was a major issue for complaint. Many companies complained of prints arriving late, forcing screenings to be rescheduled, others that prints had been damaged. This was all the more galling as MIFED charges an astonishing $490 (Euros 500) to transport prints from the gates of the Fiera to the screening room - in addition to the cost of the screening. "And if we get prints here late because they have come from a festival or somewhere else MIFED will charge us a heavy penalty," said Celluloid Dreams chief Hengameh Panahi.

Reporting by Colin Brown, Mike Goodridge, Patrick Frater, Adam Minns and Melanie Rodier.