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Lukewarm Berlin film market generates buzz nevertheless

By Michael Roddy

BERLIN (Reuters) - Berlin's international film festival ends this weekend with some film buyers and sellers having made significant deals and others complaining of slack sales activity with no significant driver.

The 64th Berlin International Film Festival kicked off last week with American director Wes Anderson's "Grand Budapest Hotel" which - like other big titles - was not for sale. It ends on Saturday with the Golden Bear award for best film.

Unlike the lead-off film "Gravity" for the Venice Film Festival last September, Anderson's whimsical comedy is a Fox film with all markets accounted for months ago, Becki Probst, director of the European Film Market (EFM), the festival's buying and selling side, told Reuters on Thursday.

Still, there was plenty of buzz in Berlin, with George Clooney promoting his self-directed World War Two art-rescue caper "Monuments Men", which is also Fox, and a screening of Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac Volume 1", but trade papers and some participants said there was not a lot more to chew over.

"The truth is that you know Berlin was warm but it was cold in business, very freezing in business," said Joseph Samaan, president of the Tanweer Group, referring to mostly unseasonable warm weather during the festival this year.

"We did some deals for small and medium titles and there was not really like a driver, a title driver in the market," Samaan - whose Dubai-based film distribution and production services company operates in the Middle East, India, North Africa and Eastern Europe - told Reuters by telephone.

He came with five or six staff this year but might come with fewer and stay for a shorter time next year, he said.

The nearly 1,500 buyers registered for the market had to scrabble over lesser known titles screening either in or out of competition for Saturday's prizes, and for future productions and films not being shown at Berlin at all.

Some participants said they had nothing to complain about.

FilmNation Entertainment CEO Glen Basner, who was in Berlin to market three titles not showing at the festival, "The Whole Truth", "Sing Street" and "A Most Violent Year", was quoted by trade publication Screen Daily as saying: "Arriving at the market with three very distinctive films, we anticipated having one of our strongest markets yet, and the brisk sales on all three demonstrated just that."

"MIXED BAG"

Probst said some of the festival films also had attracted buyers. One is the harrowing German title "Kreuzweg" (Stations of the Cross), about an adolescent girl driven to despair by her fanatical Catholic mother, which Probst said was bought by the French distribution group Memento Films.

She said Sony Classics had purchased rights to Peruvian director Claudia Llosa's English-language "New Age" spiritual healer drama "Aloft".

"It has been a mixed bag in the respect (that) there were quite some important deals done here and also some deals for smaller films," Probst said. "Also what I hear was there was a lot of activity going on coming projects."

She said the EFM was well positioned to remain a significant event on the international movie sales and distribution calendar, coming as it does after the American Film Market in November and before the Cannes festival in May.

"I'm not saying that everything at the moment financially is looking very rosy, but people are there," she said.

But with more than 400 films shown in Berlin, not all of them - and perhaps even a majority - ever get a commercial distributor, said Fatima Djoumer, head of international relations for Europa Cinemas, which gets European Union support to boost circulation of European films and awards subsidies to arthouse cinemas.

"I am not quite sure of the figure, you would have to check with the sales agents, but I have heard, and I am sure this is the reality, let's say of the 100 percent of films on the market in Cannes or in Berlin, 70 percent of these films don't get commercial distribution," Djoumer told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Stephen Brown; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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