If the organisers of theAmerican Film Market (AFM) and their many powerful supporters have their way,2003 will prove to be Mifed's swansong, great pasta and wonderful shoppingnotwithstanding.

By scheduling a rival AFMnext November, AFMA is forcing film buyers into a cruel choice. Do they allsuccumb to the gravitational pull of the major US sales companies in SantaMonica and kill off Mifed' Or do some keep faith with a devoted core ofEuropean suppliers who would like to stay put in Milan and thus create abifurcated marketplace in which business is conducted simultaneously on twocontinents' The performance of this year's Fiera event will certainly swingthat decision, one way or the other.

With or without Mifed, theinternational buying calendar will look very different from 2004. February willsee the emergence of an enlarged European Film Market (EFM) at the Berlin filmfestival. The growing popularity, especially among Asian companies, of thePusan film festival has made the Korean event something of an autumn fixture.And from 2005, the promise of just one permanent annual AFM ' in October orNovember ' means that the London Screenings, which ran before Mifed for acouple of years, are effectively dead as a convenient European stopover.Already the combination of these forces is impacting on industry timetables.

"We haven't decided anythingyet for certain, but from 2004 we will probably concentrate on EFM, Cannes andAFM as our three most important markets," says Suh Youngjoo of Korean salescompany Cineclick Asia.

"I don't see any reason for[Mifed] to continue as it is. The screening facilities are poor, the sound ispoor," says one Japanese buyer. "There are two alternatives: either Mifedimproves the quality of the facilities or the AFM takes over. The currentset-up is not acceptable, but until now we have had no other choice. Next year,though, we will."

However, Fiera MilanoInternational (FMI), which runs the 70-year-old event, is making a last-ditchbid for credibility this year with improved organisation, food and screeningequipment, as well as evening screenings. Mifed, which runs from Nov 9-13 witha pre-screening day on Nov 8, is also showcasing a competitive section offeatures and shorts from young European film-makers. It has even suggestedlinking up with the Cinecitta film studios and the Venice film festival inSeptember for an earlier European market. But is it a case of too little toolate'

"Mifed has to recognise thatthe AFM has gained impetus in going up against it because Mifed has beeninconsistent in delivering a reasonable standard of service," says KathleenDrumm, head of sales at the New Zealand Film Commission. "Buyers should nothave to leave screening rooms to warm up and phones should not arrive on thesecond day. Mifed staff are charming and try hard, but there are too manyimpediments."

Not everyone agrees,particularly the European sales companies for whom Mifed is very convenient,and the Asian companies, for whom it is much cheaper than the AFM. "I doubtvery much that this Mifed is going to be at all different," says AnnakarinStroem of Denmark's Trust Film Sales. "I feel very positive about Mifed andexpect to do the same amount of business as usual. If anything it seems morepeople are coming, especially from Japan."

Ann Hung, general manager,distribution at China Star Entertainment, says: "It all depends on the productyou have at the time, but in general we prefer Mifed to AFM. Mifed has someorganisational problems made worse by the language barrier but the AFM isexpensive."

Certainly, in terms of theproduct, Mifed seems as strong as ever. The market will see premieres of newfilms from Hou Hsiao Hsien, Juan Jose Campanella, Park Chan-Wook and EnzoD'Alo, while sales are being sought for the latest projects from Alex de laIglesia, Zhang Yimou, David O Russell, Lasse Hallstrom and two films from JohnMadden.