While the Venice Film Festival has always been known for itsrelaxed atmosphere and casual meetings, the absence of many American andEnglish companies from next month's MIFED has inadvertently lead to increasedbusiness activity on the Lido, some industry figures say.

On Tuesday, MIFED issued a statement revealing that at least25 American and UK companies which "had confirmed their attendance during theCannes Film Festival" had pulled out during the last month.

MIFED said that more than 350 screenings "of noteworthytitles and market premieres from all over the world" have already been bookedinto the market, which takes place from October 12th to 16th. The majority ofworld exhibitors who traditionally go to MIFED are expected to attend,organisers said, "with one great exception: the English and the Americans."

"The only explanation for this great number of absentees, inspite of the assurances that were given, is AFMA's intention to boycott MIFED,having chosen to overlap their dates with the ones in Milan," the Fiera added.

But according to some industry insiders, the fact thatAmericans and executives from some other countries will be deserting thisyear's MIFED in favour of November's AFM could also be the reason why moredistributors and producers have come to the Lido with a cheque-book in hand.

One international distributor pointed out that Japanesedistributor Gaga is in Venice for the first time, while buyers from Mexico havealso been spotted on the Lido this year.

"The fact that most Americans won't be going to MIFED thisyear has already had an impact on Venice," says Rai Cinema CEO Giancarlo Leone."Without realising, Venice has already become an unofficial market. In thefirst five days of the festival, I've had meetings about projects which weusually only discuss at MIFED. People from the industry are coming here thisyear before going on to Deauville and then Toronto because they might not begoing to Milan."

"Venice doesn't have an official market, but this is aninteresting sign, and I hope that MIFED will take note and collaborate withVenice to create a proper market in Venice instead of Milan," Leone said.

Adriana Chiesa, head of Rome-based Adriana ChiesaEnterprises (ACE), agreed that there "is a lot of business this year being doneon the terrace of the Excelsior. And there are certainly more buyers from othercountries - It's like Cannes was ten years ago."

Still, others, such as Fortissimo Film Sales co-chiefWouter Barendrecht, said business was on a par with previous years, and warnedthat Venice risks losing industry members if it does not quickly address theissue of the Lido's prohibitive costs and its serious organisationalshortcomings.

"Venice is still used to build critical support for filmsrather than to do business, but it is just too expensive now," Barendrecht said."The cost of lodging on the Lido is out-of-proportion, there have been hugedelays for screenings and the cost of accreditation is now Euros 300 to Euros400. A lot of people will start reconsidering launching a film here. Yet Veniceneeds to do its best to keep the industry coming."

Some buyers also complained that they had been "kicked outof the De Bains hotel by the Biennale and put in other hotels this year," eventhough the De Bains terrace is where most of them conduct business.

One industry figure complained that he had been flown out toVenice by the Biennale and offered hospitality at the De Bains hotel, "but thenhad to wait one and a half days to get his VIP pass."

"A lot of people are forgiving because of the location, butVenice really needs to get its act together fast," he said.