Any international film acquisitions executive who by-passed what's left of the London Screenings last week missed one key world premiere: Hanway's To Kill A King. The large-scale period piece starring Dougray Scott and Tim Roth screened to cast, crew and a strong turn-out of buyers ' although no US deal has yet been closed.

Otherwise, there was precious little to do other than see Beyond's low-budget Australian film Crackerjack and take meetings. Los Angeles-based sales outfits were conspicuous by their absence as the US-led boycott held firm. As a result, the showcase of A-list premieres that was London in recent years became a line-up of second-rung titles.

"There were low key general screenings, mostly of video-type material or old films," said one US buyer, who was among a significant, if unannounced, acquisitions contingent in London. "Undercover, a few people were around, the US buyers were there, but there were no sellers. It was not an active market."

The flipside is that most were anticipating a busier MIFED than usual this year ' though given the recent state of the market, anything slower would be comatose. One UK buyer said he is spending no more than a day in Milan, but leading agents such as Rolf Mittweg and Ralph Kamp are making their first trip to the Fiera in years.

MIFED chief Elena Lloyd said that the number of participants pre-booked on the eve of the market was 25% up at 2,700. She expects to beat last year's final tally of 3,749. Market premieres are, however, down on last year, at 266 compared to 309 in 2001. But the total number of films is up, from 2001's 465 to 486 this year.

If the market proves busier, it was also annoyingly familiar in its early organisational mishaps as delegates wandered lost through the re-mapped facilities.

Still, enough buyers found their way to a tantalizing clutch of stand-out titles making market premieres during the newly-introduced Saturday Pre-Screenings.

Adaptation, emerging after a year in post, is generating raves for its originality and Oscar potential from early LA screenings. According to buyers, sales agent Intermedia scrapped selling the film with gross points for its stars and raised its prices instead.

Also making its first market screening yesterday was Miramax International's highly anticipated The Hours, while Intermedia world premiered The Life Of David Gale.

One of the few large-scale titles capable of making pre-sales is Odyssey's $40 million animation Valiant, apparently selling strongly internationally after closing North America with Walt Disney, especially to those buyers flush with Middle Earth cash from The Lord Of The Rings. Entertainment has taken UK rights, Aurum has the Spanish and Roadshow took the film for Australia/New Zealand and Greece.

"There are lots of films launching," said one buyer. "I don't know if anything looks that interesting, but we say that at the start of every market and things still happen. MIFED will be a proper market. That's good."