EXCLUSIVE: Berlin’s European Film Market (EFM) is now firmly on the Asian film industry’s radar, according to market director Beki Probst.

Speaking exclusively to ScreenDaily ahead of this year’s EFM (Feb 7-15), she recalled “the days [under Moritz de Hadeln] when we used to write letters to the big studio bosses in Japan and deliver them personally and we didn’t ever receive an answer. I’m so happy to see the top people from Toho, Shochiku etc. are now coming, and they are coming with films. Asia is finally aware of Berlin.”

She added that professionals from Mauritius and Singapore are coming to the EFM for the first time, “which is good because it means the word about Berlin is also spreading in that part of the world.”

As of last Friday (Jan 18), the EFM had 452 exhibitors registered – compared to 2012’s final tally of 403 - while the number of stands or offices has now reached 172 (111 at the Martin Gropius Bau [MGB] and 61 in the Marriott Hotel), 18 more than 2012’s total figure of 154 (105 MGB/49 Marriott).

Still scope for expansion

Probst pointed out that there was still scope for more stand space at the Marriott Hotel if it is needed: “I am very happy with the deal we have with the Marriott because they are very open and welcoming. The market has been growing there and we even have offices on the third floor now. Meanwhile, Lisa Wilson with her company Solution Entertainment is on the 10th floor because she wanted to be in the presidential suite.”

“Of course, the Martin Gropius Bau remains our flagship, and we were also able to find some space since last year for the IFP and the documentary filmmakers,” she explained. “We will be repeating that experience this year.”

“New technologies and distribution channels like VoD mean that there are new kinds of companies wanting to come to the EFM,” Probst continued. “It’s attractive for these new specialist companies to come to because Berlin is the first big market of the year where more or less everybody will be here.”

“It reminds me a bit of the time after the Wall came down when we had that mass of people coming from the East because we were a new territory for them.”

Challenges and numbers

“The key challenge in organising the EFM this year has been dealing with all those different formats for the new digital technologies,“ Probst noted.

“Another challenge - but a good one – is that we have a lot of demand for screening slots,” Probst revealed. “We have a waiting list for the people who registered after the deadline and we are now trying to accomodate them.”

In fact, as of Jan 18, the EFM had 790 films registered for screening on a total of 1,067 slots, compared to last year’s final figure of 761 titles presented in 1,138 screening slots.

In addition, so far, 581 of these films will be market premieres, compared to 2012’s final total of 598 titles being screened at a market for the first time.

Probst said that the EFM is “testing the water” with this year’s innovation of enabling sellers to upload film trailers for streaming on the EFM website embedded in the market’s official screening schedule.

The trailers will be accessible for all EFM accredited participants and go on stream from the end of this month.

Solothurn honour

Meanwhile, this coming weekend will see Probst being presented with the Solothurn Film Festival’s Prix d’Honneur which “honours a Swiss personality who has rendered particularly outstanding services to Swiss film culture.”

Probst, who is head of programming and co-owner of the Quinnie Cinemas group in Berne when she is not organising the EFM in Berlin, told Screen Daily that she was “very touched and honoured by the fact that the Swiss have acknowledged me.”

“I’m pleased that I don’t have to give a speech because I get very sentimental and start to cry,” she added.

Solothurn’s annual showcase of Swiss film and television production opens on January 24 with Marcel Gisler’s new film Rosie which is among seven films nominated for the Prix de Soleure 2013 including five documentaries such as Barbara Miller’s Forbidden Voices about five women bloggers in totalitarian regimes and Alina Marazzi’s Tutto parla di te about two women suffering from post-natal depression.

In addition, Seraina Rohrer’s second edition as festival director features the 2013 Prix du Public will be decided among 12 films, including Markus Imhoof’s More Than Honey, Sophie Huber’s Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction, and Il Comandante E La Cicogna by the Swiss-Italian film-maker Silvio Soldini who is Solothurn’s guest of honour this year with a retrospective of  his 30-year career.

Moreover, Rohrer is organising afocus on contemporary radical cinema with special guests Carlos Reygadas, Thomas Imbach and Ulrich Seidl.