The heads of two of the biggest US sales companies have challenged the business viability of EFM and called for a return to the two-market calendar.

The fact that the Berlin market follows hot on the heels of Santa Monica's AFM in November, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Sundance festival in the US has squeezed the time sellers have to prepare new product.

Rising accommodation and market costs have also fuelled gripes and to cap it off there is the small matter of the weak US dollar and writers strike. New Line International did not attend ths year and Focus Features International chose to complete sales on previously announced titles and hold back new product for Cannes.

'Everyone needs to be a bit of a historian and remember the concept behind AFM moving to November several years ago,' Essential Entertainment's Jere Hausfater said. 'The original idea was to create two markets a year. The festival in Berlin is obviously one of the most important in the world and this has always been a place where you can go and buy festival movies.

'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. 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.'

'From Hyde Park's point of view two markets a year would be fine, but it should be said that we understand the for the smaller companies who can't sell their product as easily over the hone, that might not be such a good thing,' Hyde Park International's Lisa Wilson said.

'There needs to be some control over the cost. We don't want to feel like we're being gouged.' Wilson said her suite in the same hotel had shot up in price by 20% since last year.

Icon International chief Ariel Veneziano agreed the timing of EFM was poor and suggested keeping three markets but 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 said. '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.'

However The Weinstein Company chief Glen Basner disagreed: '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 of Focus said: 'I am 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,' said Lightning Entertainment's Richard Guardian, who is selling festival hit Hey Hey, It's Esther Blueberger. 'I'm not a big company and I need to take the opportunity to see them whenever I can.'

Europeans clearly disagree with Hausfater and Wilson. 'There have always been three markets,' said 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 also called on history to attest to Berlin's growth: 'The EFM moved into the Martin Gropius Bau 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.'