Fiera Milano International (FMI) general division director Carlo Bassi is expected to introduce major incentives to lure buyers and exhibitors to MIFED next year.

The incentives could include subsidising flights and hotel accommodation in Milan, and are being offered at a time when opinion is divided among buyers and sellers about whether they will attend MIFED or AFM next year.

MIFED has just secured a budget increase thanks to the newly-created company that FMI is forming with Cinecitta and the Venice Biennale, Bassi explained.

The new company will be established in January and will have a budget of Euros 7m-10m. The Italian government will pour around Euros 3.5m into the as-yet-unnamed company through the state-owned Cinecitta and Biennale. The remaining amount will be funded by FMI.

Talk amongst buyers and sellers in the Fiera this week suggests MIFED will still being going ahead next year, albeit in a significantly slimmed down form.

In the long-term, many expect that an autumn AFM will win out.

And in the meantime, however, a nightmare scenario may be looming with many having to attend both events next November.

"The ADEF [a Euro sales agent trade association] members are split 50-50. On one hand we have people whose films do better at MIFED than AFM, but on the other we have consistently argued for one less market each year," says veteran French seller Pascal Diot, now with Onoma International.

Among the US contingent the feeling is more strongly pro-AFM. "We will not attend MIFED next year," said New Line marketing and distribution chief Rolf Mittweg. "I don't know how many years I've been coming here and it hasn't changed a bit."

"There is no way we are coming back next year," says seller Yarek Danielak, at Armada Pictures International. "The Fiera organisation is terrible, everything about the set-up here is frustrating - including the transportation that is supposed to serve the market. It has been a very trying time all round. I am 100% for AFM."

Many US sellers including New Line, Focus and Miramax have promised that they won't attend MIFED next year, a boycott situation which could lead to an arthouse event in Milan followed by a more mainstream market in Santa Monica.

"The way things are going MIFED next year will be an art-house market and the AFM more focused on commercial films," says Erik Engelen, buyer with Benelux distributor Paradiso Film. "It is perhaps inevitable that we do both. That is hardly cost effective."

MIFED defenders point to lower costs and the market's Euro slant as advantages. "We are very comfortable here in MIFED. It gives us better access to Europe and smaller territories than the AFM," says Jason Chae, a seller with Korea's Mirovision. But many who feel emotionally attached to the Fiera do not feel it has sufficiently raised its game.

"We appreciate the daily bottles of wine and the flowers from MIFED, but we would have preferred more that the market stop creating problems for us with our stand," said Josh Lee head of sales at Cinema Service. "MIFED has done itself no favours - again," said another seller, Dieter Menz of Germany's Atlas International.

Most buyers and sellers are still waiting for decisions by their key business partners before making the call. "I will not know until after Cannes next year. The difference in cost to me is only a couple of thousand dollars, which is neither here nor there in comparison with the company's turnover," says buyer Valerio De Paolis of Italy's Bim Distribuzione.

"A lot depends on next February's European Film Market. It could be that Berlin and an autumn AFM are enough. We will make our decision after Berlin," says Catherine Park a seller with Korea's Tube Entertainment .

But two pieces of common wisdom may not turn out to hold good.

First the dates next year MIFED (Oct 31-Nov 4, 2004) and AFM II (Nov 3-10, 2004) will actually allow for two consecutive or slightly overlapping markets.

Second, it is as yet unclear whether Berlin will pick up the slack when the AFM finally quits its February position. "If you think that the city of Berlin has any money to put into a bigger market, think again. The city is billions of Euros in debt already," said Atlas' Menz.

"I think that Berlin will become important, not just as a festival but as a key specialist market and the axis between Sundance and Berlin will become extremely interesting," said Angus Finney, managing director, Renaissance Films (UK).