New partners, not deals, were atop the agendas of the 200 international delegates who attended the Strategic Partners co-production conference during the Atlantic Film Festival (Sept. 15-24), many on the heels of the Toronto International Film Festival.

“Everyone here is running on Toronto fumes with their guard down,” independent producer Anne Carey (The American) told ScreenDaily. “They are getting to sit down here with the international co-production crowd,” she said of the three-day event, which ran concurrent with the front end of the AFF, that in turn extended invitations to galas and the world premiere of Canadian filmmaker Thom Fitzgerald’s new lesbian love story/road movie Cloudburst, starring Olympia Dukakis.

An elite group of producers, bankers, filmmakers and government officials from Australia, South Africa, the US, the UK, France and Canada gathered to “speed date” (in organized micro-meetings), rub shoulders and eat lobster with potential partners from around the globe in a kick-back environment where they could ask themselves: do I really want to have 200 dinners with this person?

“It’s not about deals and gap financing; this is about creating relationships,” The Bang Bang Club producer Lance Samuels told ScreenDaily.

Samuels noted that South Africa’s new 35% tax incentive for filmed entertainment puts producers such himself in a good position “to be inundated with requests to shoot in South Africa; a good thing.” He said his second co-production with Canada, Inescapable, a $C5 million feature to be directed by Ruba Nadda (Cairo Time), will film there in November.

South Africa and Australia, both with lucrative new tax incentives that apply to international co-productions, were spotlighted at this year’s SP. And Canada has co-production treaties with both these countries (and a few dozen more). “You’re doing things differently here and I’m a student of how to get movies made,” Carey added. “I don’t make studio pictures; today it’s a global business and this has ‘good outreach’,” she said, noting she had her eye out for Australians as partners on her next picture.

Freshwater Pictures’ producer and former Screen Producers’ Association of Australia president, Trish Lake, says Australia’s “40% producer offset with no cap is a gift to the producer because you never pay it back,” and that the new “sensible rules” have played a key role in a “resurgence” of Australian films, including five at TIFF. Lake, whose credits include the upcoming documentary feature, My America, was in talks about a $10 million project, Dance For Me, which she describes as a “twisting, turning vendetta film with a moral dilemma”, and other projects.

“It’s nice for me to make these introductions in of all places Halifax, but it’s the right environment,” Lake added.

As the conference began, Philo Pieterse, CEO of Philo Films of South Africa, spoke for many when he said: “I’ve come fishing.”

Pieterse had luck partnering for the feature Diamonds a couple years back here and this time put together a Canada/SA TV series called Game Lodge: “We are looking for it to go into production in the latter part of 2012.” Like many, Pieterse does film and television projects interchangeably.

France took it one step further and introduced transmedia projects into the mix during a keynote address. “We know now that platforms do not cannibalize each other; they compliment each other,” declared Arte CEO Michel Reilhac to a packed house, over lunch by the seaside. “We need to go multi-platform … use these platforms as much as possible; it’s an exciting opportunity to re-invent ourselves.”

“Man cannot survive on features alone,” declared Australian producer Paul Sullivan (Cactus).

Wales-based producer Gub Neal, of Artists Studio, said his new hit ABC series Combat Hospital, co-produced with Toronto’s Sienna Films, “wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t come here” to SP. He said that one never knows what will take off this year but again he came “to meet people from all over the world and bang heads together. It saves you travel.”

The AFF also saves travel for the delegates wishing to mingle with another elite group of about 15 international co-producers attending TAP (Trans Atlantic Partners), another parallel conference which brings together filmmakers from Europe, Canada and the US for three weeks in three countries, beginning with Berlin, then Halifax and finally Manhattan.

“Most of my work is US-centric; I hadn’t really delved into co-ventures, but there’s so much happening internationally that I don’t care if the US has no treaties,” explained American indie producer Christine K. Walker, New Globe Films, of TAP, SP and the AFF. “As a producer it’s a new business and creative challenge that I want to take on, so this is the perfect chance to meet like-minded producers. I’ve met a number of producers here and we’re talking about future collaborations, we haven’t signed any deals but I’ve met at least 10 people I’d work with and that’s very important to me.”

Walker said the film festival aspect was also important “to get to know each other’s film tastes, then go for drink and get to know each other talking about things other than movies.”

Irish-based director/producer Tom Collins, another delegate attending all three parallel events, agreed in a separate interview: “It is about relationships definitely, and there may be projects I’d look at because of the people. It opens a lot of doors.”