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The Berlinale and EFM from my POV

Festivals
by Sydney Levine
February 26, 2014 10:44 PM
2 Comments
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European Film Market

You hear it all the time: Quality a bit soft. Not a lot of Big Titles. Not a lot of Big News. But Americans were buying all the same, and to quote Screen International: “The current market is focused on smart money and smart deals, not volume of product”. Business at AFM was also solid though unspectacular. Moreover, the pre-buying of projects may be below the radar of this $3 billion business of international film buying and selling. TrustNordisk’s CEO Rikke Ennis says that 70% of their films are pre-sold. As you look at the upcoming Winter Rights Roundup due out in two weeks from SydneysBuzz.com/Reports, you will notice many of the films have been pre-buys this market and many films screening were already pre-sold during AFM in November.

And for all the complaints about Berlin, many sales agents set up private screenings before the market kicked off. What is that about?

Beki Probst, who has run the EFM since 1988, responded to the many media reports of a quieter market in an interview with ScreenDaily which sounds almost the same as the one she gave in 2009.

Quoting her current statement which I take the liberty of quoting here as it appears in Screen:

“I think that there was a good movement of business this year,” she said. In the opinion of Probst, there had been a muddying of the distinction between the EFM and the more general term of the ‘market’.

“Daphné Kapfer of Europa International representing 35 sales agents said that it was a very good Berlin, and Glen Basner of FilmNation commented that it was ‘the best Berlin’.

“Even Harvey Weinstein came just for 24 hours to sign a $7m check, and Aloft was bought by Sony Pictures Classics.

“It’s the players, and not the market, that is important. The players come here if they have the right line-up. All we can do is provide the best infrastructure, but what happens after that is up to them.”

"Sales agents were not sitting idle at their stands if one takes the example of one company in the Martin Gropius Bau: the CEO met with 90 buyers and the members of staff responsible for marketing had no less than 180 meetings in addition to ad-hoc discussions at events in the evenings."

Coproductions are the engine driving the business these days.

This year’s Berlinale Co-Production Market ended after two-and-a-half days with awards handed out to projects from Kazakhstan and Belgium.

The €6,000 ARTE International Prize went to Kazakh film-maker Emir Baigazin’s planned second feature The Wounded Angel, the second part of a trilogy after his Silver Bear-winning Harmony Lessons. The €1.2m Almaty-based Kazakhfilm JSC production has already attracted France’s Capricci Production as a co-producer and has backing in place from the Doha Film Institute and the Hubert Bals Fund.

The €10,000 VFF Talent Highlight Pitch Award was presented to Belgian director Bavo Defurne for his romantic dramedy Souvenir. The €2m co-production by Oostende-based Indeed Films with Belgium’s Frakas Productions and Germany’s Karibufilm already has backing from Flanders Audiovisual Fund, Cinefinance and public broadcaster VRT/ EEN.

Black Coal, Thin Ice

India-Norway’s $55 million film to be directed by Hans Petter Moland (In Order of Disappearance)’s The Indian Bride is an exciting example of an unusual pairing of countries. 

Bavaria and Senator’s joint venture Bavaria Pictures’ The Postcard Killers to be directed by Mexican director Everardo Gout shows the international expansion of talent. 

The Hungary-Austria-Germany co-production of Stefan Zweig’s Beware of Pity, or U.K.-Lithuania action comedy Redirected being sold by Content brings unusual European partners together. 

U.S. born Damian John Harper’s coproduction with the German producers, brothers Jakob and Jonas Weydemann, on Los Angeles will be followed by In the Middle of the River now being developed with ZDF’s Das Kleine Fernsehspiel unit. 

Shoreline’s The Infinite Man produced with Australia’s Hedone Productions in association with Bonsai Films with investment from South Australia Film Corporation through its Filmlab funding initiative, development assistance from Screen Australia is also a new sort of pairing.

Film and Music Entertainment (F&ME), Bac Films, 20 Steps Productions and Bruemmer & Herzog’s The President is shooting in Tbilisi, Georgia and is being directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf

Italian-Canadian producer Andrea Iervolino and Monika Bacardi’s Sights of Death starring Danny Glover, Daryl Hannah, Rutger Hauer, Stephen Baldwin and Michael Madsen is directed by Allessandro Capone in Rome. 

The Spain-U.K. co-production Second Origin is based on the best selling Catalan novel Mecanoscrit Del Segon Orgen

The Golden Bear Winner Black Coal, Thin Ice is a Boneyard Entertainment (New York & Hong Kong) co-production with Boneyard Entertainment China (BEC), Omnijoi Media (Jiangsu, China), China Film co-production. 

Nymphomaniac

A sign of the times is the Swedish Film in Berlin advertisement which lists all Swedish co-productions:  

All are with European co-producers as is Antboy a Danish-German co-production. 

One of my favorites is Gallows Hill, being sold by IM Global and already picked up by IFC for U.S. Starring Twilight actor Peter Facinelli, U.K. actress Sophia Myles, Nathalia Ramos and Colombian model and actress Carolina Guerra, it was entirely financed from within Colombia by television network RCN’s affiliate Five 7 Media which produced with Peter Block's A Bigger Boat, David Higgins and Angelique Higgins' Launchpad Productions and Andrea Chung. The screenplay was written by Rich D’Ovidio ( The Call, Thir13en Ghosts) about a widower who takes his children on a trip to their mother’s Colombian hometown. 

Another interesting combo is the Australian-Singapore co-production Canopy being sold by Odin’s Eye which was acquired by Kaleidoscope for U.K., by Kinosmith for Canada and Odin’s Eye itself for Australia. After its TIFF 2013 premiere, Monterrey acquired U.S. rights.

Cathedrals of Culture, was produced by Wim Wenders’ production company: Neue Road Movies in Germany and co-produced by Final Cut For Real (Denmark), Lotus Film (Austria), Mer Film (Norway), Les Films d'Ici 2 (France), Sundance Productions / RadicalMedia (U.S.), Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg In collaboration with Arte (Germany and France) and Wowow (Japan).

Grand Budapest Hotel is a co-production of Scott Rudin in U.S. and Studio Babelsburg in Germany.

Wouldn't you say there had to be an awful lot of business going on?  If only the media knew where to look for it.  Instead, they moan the same old tired tune, "Quality a bit soft. Not a lot of Big Titles. Not a lot of Big News".  Oh well...

EFM Coproduction Market

Asian producer Raymond Phathanavirangoon, who was pitching the Hong Kong comedy Grooms by writer-director Arvin Chen at the Berlin Coproduction Market, announced that Germany’s augenschein filmproduktion will be a coproducer on Singaporean director Boo Junfeng’s second feature Apprentice.  The film has already received backing from France’s World Cinema Support, the Film- und Medienstiftung NRW of Germany and Germany's second network, ZDF’s Das kleine fernsehspiel unit.  It also has Cinema Defacto as its French co-producer. Junfeng’s first film, Sandcastle, was screened at the Critics’ Week in Cannes in 2010.

Cologne-based augenschein, who produced Maximilian Leo’s My Brother’s Keeper, the opening film of this year’s Perspektive Deutsches Kino and is handled internationally by Media Luna, is currently in post-production on Romanian filmmaker Florin Serban’s Box, his second feature after the 2010 Berlinale Competition film If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle.

Argentinian filmmaker Santiago Mitre whose debut The Student established him as one of the brightest and most courted young directors in Latin America was in the Co-production Market with his untitled second feature which France’s Full House connected to along with Argentina’s Union de los Rio, Argentine broadcast network Telefe, Ignacio Viale and the ubiquitous Lita Stantic.

Full House was also at the Coproduction Market with Peter Webber’s Fresh about a young thief learning the art of pickpocketing in Bogota, Colombia. It will be co-produced with RCN affiliate Five 7 Media and 4Direcciones in Colombia and by Webber himself.

Ernesto Contreras

Raymond van der Kaaij, the producer of Tamar van den Dop’s Panorama title Supernova, is now financing Sundance winner Ernesto Contreras’ next feature I Dream In Another Language. The Spanish-English language project will be produced with Mexico-based Agencia SHA, and it is now casting the American lead according to producer van der Kaaij of Revolver Amsterdam. Developed at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab and the winner of the Sundance-Mahindra Global Filmmaking Award, I Dream has already received support from IMCINE in Mexico. Shooting is scheduled in Mexico for the end of 2014.

Revolver is now editing Bodkin Ras, the debut film of Iranian-Dutch director Kaweh Modiri, an English-language documentary-thriller set in North Scotland. The Dutch-Belgian-U.K. coproduction is set for release at the end of 2014.

Finnish film-maker Jukka-Pekka Valkeapaa’s is editing his latest feature They Have Escaped, which Revolver coproduced with Helsinki Film.

Trend of smart art genres

Another continuing trend, which began with XYZ and Celluloid Nightmares and continued with Memento, is the character-driven art genre films with tight budgets, like the Danish coming-of-age-werewolf-romance, When Animals Dream, directed by first timer Jonas Arnby, sold by Gaumont to Radius-TWC for No. Americ. The Scandinavians, formerly making a mark with "Nordic Noir" are now making what they call "Nordic Twilight".

Trend of remake rights

The Intouchables

Another trend is that of remake rights. Film Sharks reports it makes more from selling remake rights than from licensing distribution rights. 

The Intouchables is selling remake rights to more countries than only India as is the sale of Other Angle’s Babysitting remake rights.  Negotiations are underway with Russia, Italy and Germany. 

Fruit Chan is considering an English language remake of his 2004 cult horror film Dumplings.

The market is bit too calm?…Then let us look at Cannes…

Usually by AFM you can begin the Tipped for Cannes List (which Gilles Jacob detested), but even that is a little on the quiet side. I begin to question whether all media fueled news is accurate: the slow sales being reported, the lack of pre-Cannes buzz… Is the media really investigating deeply? 

Of all the trades, while Screen has the most international news and deepest analyses, Variety reports things no other trade is covering. But…still the non-news of a quiet market persists as if it were headline news. We always hear this and we are still in an economic slump, so what we wish for is not apparent, but this is not news.

Tipped for Cannes

Tipped for Cannes are Zhang Yimou’s Coming Home staring Gong Li and to be sold by Wild Bunch, Stealth’s First Law starring Mads Mikkelsen (Cannes 2012 Best Actor Award for The Hunt); Self Made (Boreg) by Shira Geffen and to be sold by Westend, shot in Hebrew and Arabic by the production and sales team behind Oscar nominated 2011 drama Footnote, the second film after Geffen’s 2007 debut Jellyfish which won the Cannes Camera d’Or. MK2’s Clouds of Sils Maria by Olivier Assayas and starring Juliette Binoche, Chloe Grace Moretz and Kristen Stewart, and Naomi Kawase’s Still the Water will be delivered in time for Cannes. Pyramide International is plannng for Leviathan, a modern retelling of the biblical story which deals with some of Russia’s most important social issues to be ready for Cannes. It is directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev and produced by Alexander Rodnyansky (Stalingrad) as their followup to Elena. Gaumont-CJ co-production, The Target, the Korean remake of Fred Cavaye’s action thriller Point Blank will be ready in time for Cannes.

Rumors and truths about people changing positions

Rumors about Dieter Kosslick replacing Berlin’s Culture Secretary who resigned after a tax evasion scandal in which he admitted to stashing $575,000 in a Swiss bank account…Charlotte Mickie has left eOne and knowing her, she is bound to find something good elsewhere as she's too good to lose...StudioCanals Harold van Lier now leads eOne’s newly ramped international sales team and Montreal based Anick Poirier leads its subsidiary label, Seville International. Jeff Nuyts is leaving Intramovies. Nigel Sinclair and Guy East seem to be leaving Exclusive Media the company they founded as discussions with partners from Dasym Investment Strategies BV move forward. Kevin Hoiseth from Voltage Pictures has joined International Film Trust as their director of international sales...and of course, Nadine de Barros has founded her own company, Fortitude, and was holding court at the Ritz Carlton the buzziest spot outside of the Martin Gropius Bau.

What I Saw and What I Thought

For what it's worth, here is my limited list of screenings of films seen only in the last 3 days of the festival when I was no longer "working".  I am including some I actually saw at Sundance.  

First and foremost -- and to be written about further in a "thought piece" as I term the articles I think long about before writing and to include my interview with the director Goran Hugo Olsson's (The Black Power Mixtapes winner of Sundance 2011 World Cinema Documentary Film Editing Award) -- Concerning Violence  (ISA: Films Boutique, U.S.: Cinetic), based on Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth and seen at Sundance this year next to Stanley Nelson's outstanding Freedom Summer (PBS) and Greg Barker's We Are The Giant (Submarine), is a call to action for new societal models ringing out loud and clear.

Golden Bear Winner, Black Coal, Thin Ice by Diao Yinana Chinese noir, lacked the momentum and substance I would have expected in a winning film, though it was a fascinating way to see today's urban China.  Had I been on the jury, I would have chosen the Best Director Award winning Boyhood (ISA: IFC) by Richard Linklater.  But perhaps because James Schamus, an American who loves Chinese films, was President of the Jury, there might have arisen a question of disinterested objectivity.  I would have to hear what jurists Barbara Broccoli, Trine Dyrhom, Chistoph Waltz, Tony Leung, Greta Gerwig, Mitra Farahani and Michel Gondry would have to say about the deliberations.

Speaking of jury prizes, it was a surprise the much acclaimed '71 (ISA: Protagonist, now headed by our dear Mike Goodridge) won nothing, and good Alain Renais' Life of Riley (ISA: Le Pacte) received recognition.  I found Christophe Gans' La belle et la bete (Beauty and the Beast) (ISA: Pathe) an overproduced unwieldy special effects-ridden mess, even though it was exec-produced by Jérôme Seydoux who also produced the masterpiece La Grande Belleza (The Great Beauty), and starred his granddaughter Lea Seydoux.  I'll stand by Cocteau's versoin.  I heard Claudia Llosa (Milk of Sorrow)'s Aloft was also not widely admired.  

About the best actress winning film The Little House (ISA: Shochiku could have marketed it more widely), I heard nothing at all, though it sounds really good. Kreuzweg (Stations of the Cross) (ISA: Beta) by brother and sister team Anna and Dietrich Brueggemann (any relation to our own Tom Brueggeman?) had a satisfying denouement and was quite engrossing with moments of humor lightening the heavy weight of the cross carried by 14 year old Maria played by Lea van Acken, a picture face out of a George de la Tour painting (Magdeline with a Smoking Flame or A Piece of Art).  Macondo (ISA: Films Boutique - again! ) by Sudabeh Mortezai of Austria was a window on a world never seen before and very engrossing although the coming of age story was one we have seen before.  

Not sorry to say I missed The Monuments Men and Nymphomaniac Volume I, but sorry that I missed Beloved Sisters (ISA: Global Screen) of Dominik Graf, The Grand Budapest Hotel (will see it in U.S.), Argentinian Benjamin Naishat's History of Fear (ISA: Visit) -- I'll catch it in Carthegena, Guadalajara or San Sebastian I'm sure, Jack, In Order of Disappearance which sounds like the sleeper hit of the festival, Argentinan (again!) La tercera orilla (The Third Side of the River), Lou Ye's Tui Na (Blind Massage) and Rachid Bouchareb's Two Men in Town (ISA: Pathe - again!), which I heard was rather flat which is not surprising, for when non-Americans try to make an American genre, it usually misses a certain verve, but still is such an interesting subject for him to tackle, Zwischen Welten (Inbetween Worlds) (ISA: The Match Factory) from Germany, another "American" subject, but here about a German soldier in Afghanistan, not an American one.  

Among the Berlinale Specials, I wish I had seen Nancy Buirski's Afternoon of a Faun which everyone said was good (ISA: Cactus Three the doc production company of Krysanne Katsoolis and Caroline Stevens) and Volker Schloendorff's 1969 Brecht piece Baal starring Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Margarethe von Trotta.  I did see his Diplomacy (ISA: Gaumont) which was a great treat, erudite, intimate and reminiscent of the novels of Sandor Marai (Embers and Casanova in Bolzano). Wish I could have seen Wim Wenders' Cathedrals of Culture (ISA: Cinephil), Diego Luna's Cesar Chavez (ISA: Mundial) and In the Courtyard aka Dans la cours (ISA: Wild Bunch) starring Catherine Deneuve and The Kidnapping of Michel Houllebecq (ISA: Le Pacte - again!!). I will see The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden (ISA: The Film Sales Company) by Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller, produced by Jonathan Dana, Dayna Goldfine, Dan Geller and Celeste Schaefer Snyder (Ballets Russes), back home.  The Turning (ISA: Level K), an experimental omnibus produced by my favorite Australian producer, Robert Connelly who also directed in part and Maggie Myles, is also a must-see as is Errol Morris' companion piece to The Fog of War, The Unknown Known (ISA: HanWay) and Houssein Amini's Two Faces of January (ISA: StudioCanal) starring my favorites Viggo Mortenson and Kirsten Dunst.  We Come as Friends (ISA: Le Pacte), by Hubert Sauper whose earlier film Darwin's Destiny astounded me, was worth watching although so often his films plunge one into a hopeless helplessness.  Fresh from Sundance, it was raising controversy and the story of the Sudan is worth knowing.  His particular and peculiar POV is valuable.  Watermark (ISA: Entertainment One), another social issue worth knowing about will have to wait for a more propitious time.  Personally I'm hoping Israel's current venture into desalination of water will lead the world into peace and that I will rejoice watching the doc about that. 

Difret (ISA: Films Boutique - again!), fresh from Sundance where I saw it was really good and it sold well. I got to hang out with the team at the Panorama party. Gueros (ISA: Mundial - again!), was a disappointment -- too like The Year of the Nail (though different) in tone. But what a great company Canana is!  

Panorama's Finding Vivian Maier (ISA: HanWay - again!) is brilliantly interesting.  It is about to be released in U.S. by IFC.  I highly recommend seeing this documentary about an eccentric, unknown photographer.  It premiered at TIFF 2013.  Fresh from Sundance where it won a Special Jury Prize,  Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (ISA: Submarine) was a treasure; Velvet Terrorists was about the oddest piece I have ever seen.  About three former opponents of the Czechoslovakian Soviet Regime, each has continued to enjoy blowing up things.  One is still training the next generation in urban guerilla warfare.  They  are otherwise unremarkable, sweet even, but twisted.  What an odd documentary.

A quick look at the Market Films I have seen: of the 400+ premieres: ZERO -- no I did see German Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, Two Lives (ISA: Beta), and I will soon be home to celebrate its nomination at the famous Villa Aurora, the former home of German expatriate writer Leon Feuchtwanger.  So many more films look sooooo attractive!  A pity I may never get to see them. I would need all the time in the world, and I have so little.  I have so much and yet I want more!



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2 Comments

  • Robert j Gilman | February 21, 2014 7:54 AMReply

    Thanks Sydney, great information, engaging, always have loved how you write.

  • andrea | February 20, 2014 3:46 PMReply

    Thanks Sydney for the great story!

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