When the Berlin Film Festival announced its 2004 dates - Feb 5-15 - last week, the early scheduling was primarily motivated by the fact that next year's Academy Awards ceremony will be held almost a month earlier, on Feb 29.

For many industry executives used to jetting between the Berlin's European Film Market (EFM) and the American Film Market (AFM) - which will be held Feb 25 -Mar 3 - the move could be good news. Berlin's decision to start earlier than usual in February means a gap of ten days has now been created between the two markets.

This year there were just four days between the two events - an agonisingly short break between what can two gruelling events for industry executives.

"It's great that we have this interval as it makes life easy for everyone - for the organisation and for the people attending," says EFM director Beki Probst, "We have been on each other's backs in the past few years."

"The gap will certainly give everyone a chance to catch their breath and then have more time to prepare for the AFM", notes Thorsten Schaumann, head of sales at Bavaria Film International.

Max Seidel, whose new company Slav International made its market debut at the EFM this year, points out: "it's good to have a little layover in order to return to the office and follow up on (Berlin) business done as it's not necessarily the same buyers that travel to AFM.

Paul Yi of Korea's E Pictures also agrees that this new gap between the markets means that he will "not have to sacrifice supporting my films in the Berlinale to leave and setup for AFM, which arguably is more important for overall business".

And Senator Film's Benjamin Herrmann welcomes the gap "since the markets are very different so that there is no reason to have one following on immediately on from the other."

However, the jury is still out on whether buyers and sellers will now stay longer in Berlin. "We didn't have a real quantity of buyers at Berlin this year," says Ida Martins of Cologne-based sales company Media Luna Entertainment. "That could be because AFM came so quickly afterwards."

As Zurich-based sales agent Esther van Messel of First Hand Films points out, ""I don't think people can take much more than a week at a time and so people either put their visit over the first or second half of the festival".

"What you already notice is that the weekends are always the busiest. People tend to focus because the concentration of events at the beginning of the year [with the Rendezvous of French Cinema in Paris, Rotterdam and then Berlin] is so big," adds financing matchmaker Jean-Baptiste Babin of Paris-based Backup Films.

While welcoming the chance to catch one's breath between the markets, Schaumann suggests that the buzz created around titles in Berlin might now have evaporated by the time the AFM cranks up. "The previous dates meant that you could transport the buzz more directly and immediately to the AFM which was an advantage for both sellers and buyers. That certainly benefited Good Bye, Lenin! and Distant Lights this year."