After a brutal 12 months in the independent film business, a mood of cautious optimism is infusing business as AFM 2009 enters the home stretch.

Buyers and sellers have reconciled themselves to the fact that leaner times have given rise to the need to focus on commercial theatrical fare made for a price and sold - mostly - at reasonable levels.

Marquee titles like a hot trio from Summit - The Beaver, Red and Vendome Pictures’ first title Source Code starring Jake Gyllenhaal - Kinology’s Buried with rising star Ryan Reynolds, IM Global’s Area 51 from Oren Peli, and Focus Features International’s (FFI) The American starring George Clooney have all done well here.

Buyers have flocked to Mandate International’s Paul Haggis film The Next Three Days with Russell Crowe, The Weinstein Company’s Scream 4 and Hyde Park International’s Machete.

“We’ve done everything we set out to achieve,” FFI’s Alison Thompson said. “There’s that air of quiet determination and pragamatisim.”

Yet challenges remain. The division between the haves and have-nots is as stark as ever now, with weak product lacking any semblance of theatrical possibility falling by the wayside. Japan remains as tough as ever, while Germany and France are buying aggressively again.

The dwindling number of US distributors has also informed the new landscape. “Domestic is key,” Summit International’s Patrick Wachsberger said. “Without domestic for a real movie it isn’t realistic that it will get made.”

Of the UK companies, Protagonist reported its best ever AFM with Bel Ami and Street Dance 3D, while Icon UK CEO Stewart Till sounded a positive note when he said, “There are some really interesting films we are looking to acquire. Prices in the main seem a little more realistic. It’s all about quality.”

“It’s been slow but the meetings we’ve had have been quality meetings with real buyers as some of the less serious people have been weeded out,” Media Asia’s Fred Tsui said. Odin’s Eye’s Michael Favelle said AFM was not a disappointment, adding, “We noticed a shift about three weeks before in that things were starting to pick up.”

That said, the feeling is that producers need to shift their expectations in line with the new realities of the marketplace. “Suddenly, you have a market where on 60% of your budget, you have zero. If you are conservative, you put zero,” Wild Bunch’s Vincent Maraval said. “The production cost of the film needs to be adapted to that but the producers have no clue.”