At the AFM in Santa Monica, several Dutch distributors were heard to grumble about the prices being charged by international sales companies for Benelux rights.

Nonetheless, there was little evidence the Dutch buyers were keeping their wallets in their pockets. A-Film and Dutch FilmWorks both made major acquisitions of high-profile titles (the former bought Five Killers from Mandate as well as a package of four titles from HanWay, while the latter took titles including Sylvester Stallone vehicle The Expendables).

One of the territory's best-known figures, Pim Hermeling, was at his first market since the official launch of Wild Bunch Benelux Distribution (Wbbd) and he too was buying. Among his acquisitions was Robert Dornhelm's film version of Puccini opera La Boheme from German sales agent Beta Film.

Wbbd is a joint venture between Hermeling and French outfit Wild Bunch, which has made no secret of its ambitions to create a pan-European distribution network. Even before Hermeling left A-Film at the start of the year, it has been an open secret he had been planning a joint venture with Wild Bunch - but it took him longer than anticipated to set up officially the new outfit. It will access product through Wild Bunch but will also acquire titles on its own.

'We pick up our own films, especially for Benelux, and we are going to work with Dutch producers,' he explains. 'Things are going well - we've got a great line-up for our first year.'

Among Wbbd's own pick-ups are Tom McCarthy's The Visitor (from K5). Other titles Wild Bunch Benelux will be releasing include The Wrestler, Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea, Largo Winch, Goodbye Solo and The Killer Inside. Some of these were acquired through a deal Hermeling agreed recently with Belgian distributor Imagine, some came from Wild Bunch and some were acquired directly from other sales agents, by Hermeling and his team, which includes Jan Van Aert, who worked with him at A-Film.

To the outsider, the relationship between Hermeling and his French partners looks complex. But he says: 'We're not going to get all the films from (Wild Bunch) international. We're going to do a selection. We'll get a portion of what they have internationally. Wild Bunch France's distribution side is also buying for Benelux and France together. Burning Plain is one example.'

This has been a period of consolidation in Benelux distribution. Hermeling's alliance with Wild Bunch follows Entertainment One's acquisition of Dutch distributor RCV. For Hermeling, it is only natural that Dutch distributors should be looking to strike international alliances.

'I left A-Film because I don't believe any more in a company that is owned by people from Benelux solely for Benelux,' he says. 'It's too small. The MGs are going up every market. P&A expenses are very, very expensive. You need to have a connection with a French or German or UK company that is stronger than you are financially.'