EXCLUSIVE: Beki Probst, head of Berlin’s European Film Market (EFM), has hit back at claims that the 2014 edition was “sluggish” or “lukewarm” while the Berlinale Co-Production Market has handed out its awards.

Probst, who has run the EFM since 1988, was responding to reports of a quieter market.

“I think that there was a good movement of business this year,” she said in an exclusive interview with ScreenDaily.

“Daphné Kapfer of Europa International representing 35 sales agents said that it was a very good Berlin, and Glen Basner of FilmNation commented that it was ‘the best Berlin’.

“Even Harvey Weinstein came just for 24 hours to sign a $7m cheque, and Aloft was bought by Sony Pictures Classics.

“It’s the players, and not the market, that is important. The players come here if they have the right line-up. All we can do is provide the best infrastructure, but what happens after that is up to them.”

In the opinion of Probst, there had been a muddying of the distinction between the EFM and the more general term of the ‘market’. 

Sales agents were not sitting idle at their stands if one takes the example of one company in the Martin Gropius Bau: the CEO met with 90 buyers and the members of staff responsible for marketing had no less than 180 meetings in addition to ad-hoc discussions at events in the evenings.

While past editions of the Berlinale had seen films like A Separation and Gloria causing a buzz amongst EFM participants as well as the festival-goers, this year had seen particular attention centring on such films as the Competition titles Stations Of The Cross (Kreuzweg) and ‘71 as well as the Panorama’s The Circle, according to Probst.

Too many films

Probst observed there were a glut of titles and said: “One thing is for sure and that is that there are too many films out there, and one asks where they will all end up. Will it be VoD or download only?

“I know from my own experience as a cinema-owner that there are too many films trying to get on to the screens. Every week, it is a hassle.”

She also pointed out that the festival and EFM were both conscious of the need to address changes in the market and this had been one of the reasons for holding a debate on new developments with such players as UFA Fiction’s Nico Hofmann, Magnolia Pictures’ Christina Rogers and Watchever’s Stefan Schulz.

Probst said that she had discussed these changes with colleagues including Venice’s Alberto Barbera, Cannes’ Jerome Paillard and Toronto’s Piers Handling and suggested that the best way to meet the new challenges would be to integrate the new developments into existing market structures.

Renovated Zoo Palast

The Zoo Palast passed its first year as an EFM venue with flying colours as both festival-goers and market participants enthused about the comfort and decor of the renovated cinema complex.

“Many of the people attending the market screenings at the Zoo Palast were going there because they wanted to see specific titles,” Probst explained.

“Several of the companies were having private screenings which were invitation only and where they knew who would be coming. It is good to have these extra five screens at the Zoo Palast as an alternative because we couldn’t have so many private screenings at venues at Potsdamer Platz.”

She added that some people were put off making the trip from Potsdamer Platz to the Zoo Palast by the distance, but this ‘psychological block’ apparently also exists for many EFM delegates when they want to get to the Martin Gropius Bau.

The EFM Shuttles transport hundreds of people daily despite the fact it is often quicker to go by foot as a result of traffic congestion around Potsdamer Platz.

Co-Pro Market Awards

This year’s Berlinale Co-Production Market ended after two-and-a-half days with awards handed out to projects from Kazakhstan and Belgium.

The €6,000 ARTE International Prize went to Kazakh film-maker Emir Baigazin’s planned second feature The Wounded Angel, the second part of a trilogy after his Silver Bear-winning Harmony Lessons.

The €1.2m Almaty-based Kazakhfilm JSC production has already attracted France’s Capricci Production as a co-producer and has backing in place from the Doha Film Institute and the Hubert Bals Fund.

The €10,000 VFF Talent Highlight Pitch Award was presented to Belgian director Bavo Defurne for his romantic dramedy Souvenir.

The €2m co-production by Oostende-based Indeed Films with Belgium’s Frakas Productions and Germany’s Karibufilm already has backing from Flanders Audiovisual Fund, Cinefinance and public broadcaster VRT/EEN.

Co-Production Market news

Asian producer Raymond Phathanavirangoon, who was pitching the Hong Kong comedy Grooms by writer-director Arvin Chen at the Berlin co-production gathering this week, revealed exclusively to ScreenDaily that Germany’s augenschein Filmproduktion will be a co-producer on Singaporean director Boo Junfeng’s second feature Apprentice.

The film, which has already received backing from France’s World Cinema Support, the Film- und Medienstiftung NRW, and ZDF’s Das kleine Fernsehspiel unit, has also Cinema Defacto as French co-producer.

Junfeng’s first film, Sandcastle, was screened at the Critics’ Week in Cannes in 2010.

Cologne-based augenschein, who produced Maximilian Leo”s My Brother’s Keeper, the opening film of this year’s Perspektive Deutsches Kino handled internationally by Media Luna, is currently in postproduction on Romanian film-maker Florin Serban’s Box, his second feature after the 2010 Berlinale Competition film If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle.

In addition, augenschein is preparing a sequel with Hella Wenders of her long-term observational documentary Berg Fidel.

Supernova producer’s Dream

Raymond van der Kaaij, the producer of Tamar van den Dop’s Panorama title Supernova, is now in the financing stage of Sundance winner Ernesto Contreras’ next feature I Dream In Another Language.

The Spanish-English language project will be produced with Mexico-based Agencia SHA, and casting of the American lead role is “in full swing”, van der Kaaij of Revolver Amsterdam told ScreenDaily.

Developed at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab and the winner of the Sundance-Mahindra Global Filmmaking Award, I Dream… has already received support from IMCINE in Mexico. Shooting is scheduled in Mexico for the end of 2014.

Meanwhile, Revolver is at the editing stage on Bodkin Ras, the debut film of Iranian-Dutch director Kaweh Modiri, an English-language documentary-thriller set in North Scotland. The Dutch-Belgian-UK coproduction is set for release at the end of 2014.

Similarly, Finnish film-maker Jukka-Pekka Valkeapaa’s is editing his latest feature They Have Escaped, which Revolver co-produced with Helsinki Film.