Film industry executives weigh pros and cons of attending Berlin

Berlin’s Martin Gropius Bau building won’t be bustling with the frenetic dealings of the European film market, but the global film industry is still considering trips to Germany for an in-person Berlinale.

Sales companies with a film at the festival, which runs February 10-16, largely plan to show up, and many distributors are expected. Efforts are also underway to attract buyers to Berlin by setting up separate market screenings for Official Selection films, although the feasibility of this is unclear.

According to several sources, Europa International, the umbrella group representing European sales companies, is in negotiations with the EFM to try to organize some kind of informal market activity on the ground.

“We are in constant dialogue with the sellers and understand the need that a high-level festival on the scale of the Berlinale generates for the commercial launch of the films,” said EFM director Dennis Ruh. Variety. “We are currently exploring what safe deals we can make for sales agents with films on the Berlinale program in accordance with the festival’s strict protocol in its revised concept.”

As for the US presence, senior CAA and Neon executives are expected to attend at least part of the festival, but companies such as IFC Films, Bleecker Street and Participant Media are sitting in Berlin in person, preferring to take the virtual route. It is still believed that FilmNation and Sony Pictures Classics are considering its presence in the field.

“It’s going to be a very euro-centric event,” said a major US buyer who preferred to speak anonymously. “For the majority, [sellers] will be presenting online, so it would be a bit weird to be on Zoom from a hotel room in Berlin.

That’s not to say, of course, that virtual market fatigue hasn’t set in among Americans. “Virtual Schmirtual. Make it stop,” one big gamer joked, presumably speaking on behalf of much of the industry. “I can’t take another virtual festival.”

Outside the UK, Mubi’s co-head of acquisitions Kevin Chan says the arthouse streamer, who went on a buying spree at Cannes, has booked trips and hotels but “will wait for the full selection and see how the situation develops over the next few weeks.”

London-based sales agents like Altitude, Film Constellation and Embankment Films, which have no films on the schedule, are staying home, but Rocket Science will be on the ground, with boss Thorsten Schumacher – who has brought all his team in Cannes – also plans to attend.

Susan Wendt, managing director of TrustNordisk, will bring a small team to the Berlinale, where the company will have at least one film in the official selection.

“I was sad and even furious when I heard that Sundance and then the EFM were going virtual,” says Wendt, whose team is trying to score a conference room in a Berlin hotel to set up camp for a hybrid EFM. .

Wendt and others expect some buyers to make the trip to Berlin, as well as festival representatives and festival film management teams. “[We want] to make the most of it because you have to start the year on a positive note, and you have to go out and feel like you’re at a festival,” she says.

Cecile Gaget of Anton Capital in France will also be present, as the company represents “Fire” by Claire Denis, which should be part of the competition list, which will be revealed on January 19.
“We will be on the ground supporting the film crew and the Berlinale,” notes Gaget, whose team will perform the EFM online from a Paris apartment and then travel to Berlin for the weekend.

Fionnuala Jamison, managing director of French company MK2 Films, which has at least one film in competition, also plans to attend the festival for a few days. “The Berlinale and the EFM are always important for arthouse films,” explains the director, whose list includes “Passengers of the Night” by Mikhael Hers with Charlotte Gainsbourg and Emmanuelle Béart.

Last year, MK2 achieved more than 2 million euros in sales at the virtual EFM with its film “Petite Maman” by Céline Sciamma in competition at the festival. The film has had a strong awards season and was named the National Society of Film Critics’ Top Finalist in the United States this week. “I had shoppers in tears talking about the movie on Zoom,” Jamison recalled of last year’s virtual market.

But the online format works best with films that are buzzing or backed by directors with solid track records, Jamison says. Like Gaget, she says the plan this year is to “start with Zoom meetings and then go to the festival to see people and socialize in cafes, like we did in Venice.”

At Paris-based Charades, co-founder Yohann Comte says he plans to go there for four days and attend the premiere of the company-selected film.

“I expect some producers, art house distributors, film crews and festival programmers to be there, so it will be worth going,” says Comte, who plans to take meetings in cafes and lobbies, as it does in Toronto.

Italian sales agent Paola Corvino, head of Intramovies which has a film at the Berlinale, will send a representative from her team but says the ‘big fear’ is ‘getting stuck in a COVID hotel in Berlin’ if they are tested positive before leaving Germany.

Jean-Christophe Simon of Berlin-based Films Boutique says the company will operate as it does in Venice, Toronto or Sundance.

“We are going to follow what we do in festivals that don’t have a market, that is to say, we are going to put ourselves in ‘festival mode’ and meet people who are there”, says Simon, who adds that the Berlinale plans to give accredited buyers privileged access to screenings.

“Allowing distributors to attend screenings will be key to encouraging them to attend, otherwise there is no point for them to be in Berlin and watch films on links,” adds Simon.

When it comes to an international presence from West Asia and Asia proper, the jury is still out. Buoyed by the inaugural Red Sea Film Festival in December, there are promising signs that not everyone in the Arab cinema world plans to stay home.

“I plan to go there unless they have a lockdown. The EFM is virtual, but I still want to go,” says Alaa Karkouti, head of Egyptian distributor-producer Mad Solutions.

For Asian delegates, it’s still unclear how many companies will make the leap to international travel. Many Korean sellers had hoped Berlin would be their first market for over a year, but are now believed to be turning their sights to Cannes.

Patrick Frater contributed to this story.

About Monty S. Maynard

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