With many of the big US and Japanese players absent, 2001 was never going to be a vintage year for MIFED. The market corridors of the Fiera in Milan were visibly quieter than in previous years and a number of exhibitor booths were paid for but remained empty. As a result, high profile market deals were thin on the ground. Some of the most interesting deals, as in the case of Miramax and Good Machine, even took place by phone away from MIFED.

However, those who had expected MIFED to be a complete washout were proved wrong. In the end, MIFED resorted to doing what it does best: acting as an international bread-and-butter marketplace for theatrical and ancillary rights deals. In this respect it proved effective if not outstanding.

Above all MIFED proved a buyers market - at least for those who came. The absence of top US and Japanese buyers meant that buyers from smaller territories got more attention and quality time with sellers than usual, resulting in a string of deals for territories such as The Netherlands, Thailand, Malaysia and the Middle East. "We're selling to countries that we don't even know that capital city of," said one seller. Helen Loveridge of Orfeo Films reported a bidding battle involving six buyers from Venezuela and another with seven from Mexico for one of her films: "I didn't know there were six buyers in Venezuela," she said.

"It has been a good market for buyers but not for sellers," said Yvonne Tam of Malaysia's Golden Scene. "There has been a terrible lack of good product on offer and many sellers must have struggled to cover the costs of their two weeks in London and Milan. There has been little downward impact on prices. Rather the shortage of product has been matched by the caution of buyers, many of whom stocked up ahead of the strike earlier this year."

Key market trends included:

- Some of the market slack was picked up by buyers from Russia, South East Asia and Turkey. Gaga, the only Japanese company attending in force, was particularly active buying Rules Of Attraction from Lions Gate, Francois Ozon's Eight Women (Huit Femmes) from Celluloid Dreams and When The Ride Is Ruff from Creative Union Entertainment. Just before MIFED, Gaga sealed a four-picture deal with Miramax for Chicago, Behind The Sun, On The Line and Shaolin Soccer, and bought Pedro Almodovar's Talk To Her (Hable Con Ella) from Good Machine International.

- Causing consternation among local distributors, Miramax emerged as a buying force for Italy. It bought American Zoetrope titles Jeepers Creepers and No Such Thing from Capitol Films, the first time it has acquired individual titles for local distribution in Italy.

- Sellers with original product continued to do business. Despite the unfavourable economic climate, prices held up well for sellers with strong, star laden product. "I don't necessarily think that prices were down for films that people felt were strong commercial films," said Myriad Pictures executive vice-president of sales and distribution Eric Christenson. "But films that looks as if they is video or TV produce are feeling a crunch on prices."

- The absence of US and Japanese players was not universally lamented. Suh Young-joo, head of Cineclick Asia said: "Asian sellers have benefited from the lack of strong American product in this market." Given the lack of Japanese buyers, she expects to close a number of high profile Japanese deals at this month's Pusan festival.

The effectiveness of MIFED was underlined this week with news that a group of leading US and UK sellers - including Intermedia and Capitol Films - are planning to lead a group of top sellers to bypass the London Screenings and take their films straight to Milan next year. MIFED, they say, is simply a more efficient and less expensive market than London.

However, support is also growing among some for the notion of switching AFM to an autumn date. That would leave buyers attending just two big markets a year - Cannes and an autumn AFM and plus possibly Berlin and Toronto. "We would definitely support such a move," said one leading German seller, who was planning to meet with representatives of the UK and French sellers' associations ahead of the AFMA members meeting.