The European Film Market’s online editions for 2021 and 2022 did surprisingly good business, but it was with hugs and handshakes that the EFM came back to IRL action, celebrated this year with a rather spiffy grey fabric tote. In hindsight, the real work of the EFM this year might be said to be more about in-real-life talking and building trust rather than instant sales. And while masks were not mandatory this year for screenings and other venues, a prevailing sense of care dangled around the public areas, almost pushed aside by the overall excitement and enthusiasm for the business of cinema in general.
As with the parallel Berlin Film Festival, the European Film Market embraced a wide swathe of titles for sale and by all appearances a lively string of deals both made and in the making. That said, as with the competitive and festival titles, it wasn’t a market that meant easy sales for all comers. Titles which might have been seen as harder to sell were not as alluring as the sure winners.
In brief, the buyers continue to be risk averse, lending some credence to the idea that the post-pandemic cinematic world has yet to swing into any sense of complete market confidence. Those with cash and slots to fill seemed more than happy to bide their time until more titles became available.
Of course, streamers had their effect, especially now that Netflix, Apple and others are creating more of their own product in-house with a sharp decline in buying outside titles. But even this apparently dark cloud might create silver linings for those who want to snap up the titles that the streamers previously would have leapt on. This means locations, crew and above the line performers might have a wee more room in their schedules for smaller features, even if studio space is still in high demand, especially in the UK and European stages. That said, stars such as Jude Law, Nicholas Hoult, Jamie Bell and Nicolas Cage gave weight to some of the larger US productions available at the marketplace.
With an economic crunch happening across many countries, selling a trip to the cinema felt a daunting task. Even when streamers are crammed with titles, many consumers find themselves with “nothing to watch”. Which means punching through the ennui and the ether takes special powers – and that brings critics and buyers alike to shift their gaze to try to find more independents like A24, who have scored well with “Triangle of Sadness” but also the breakout “Everything Everywhere All At Once”, both high quality risks that paid off. The goldmine titles like “Aftersun” seem to come from nowhere, highlighted either by smaller festival wins and critical mass.
Good meetings may not mean immediate sales but more like trust- and relationship-building for the future. If anything, Berlin is known as a humanistic arena for buyers, sellers, critics and the public alike. It is arguable that Berlin is where the business and the art of film can cross over into its most sincere form. Where else could one launch the U2 Sarajevo documentary “Kiss The Future” to get such word of mouth? Arguably “Blackberry” – an entertaining title one German critic commented “was for the multiplex” – was snapped up even before the festival and many of its screenings were packed. The closing of some multiplex screening venues made getting all titles seen more of a challenge.
That said, with a reported 132 countries participating in the market and 78 countries with stands or companies, there were a whopping 773 films shone across almost 1550 screenings. These numbers exclude online streaming links and market premieres. With a reported 230 stands, 612 companies and almost 12000 participants, it was reported that exhibition spaces were completely sold out at the Gropius Bau (limited to trade only during on dates) and the Marriot Hotel – the latter conveniently located near the Palast and CinemaxX venues for market screenings, as well as being extremely well situated for the many well-attended red carpet arrivals.
As the week went on, the grey EFM totes were carried by people with increasingly happy faces. The totes would disappear into luxurious shuttle cars, which whisked participants to the Marriot and the Gropius Bau and back again. The totes were also seen leaning against the chairs of energised market people noshing at the nearby Manifesto food court. Clearly, going by the grey totes alone, this year’s business at the Berlinale gave off a cheery, energetic and vital vibe. There was a palpable sense of gladness at seeing old friends, meeting up in person and having a strong coffee with festival buddies at The Barn in Potsdamer Platz. It all seemed a sweeter experience after two long years of Zoom.
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