By Indiewire | Indiewire February 16, 2001 at 2:0AM
BERLIN 2001: They Don't Take VISA: Shopping at the European Film Market
by Brandon Judell
(indieWIRE/ 02.16.01) -- A week or so ago, Beki Probst, Director of the Berlinale's European Film Market, made a celebratory speech to the German press. And why shouldn't Beki be gleeful? Her child was celebrating its second year in a glamorous new locale that she helped redesign this year to make even more comfortable for her clientele.
There are now 41 booths encompassing over 90 different companies from 30 countries, plus umbrella booths such as Unifrance Film International, the Italian Pavilion, and the German Boulevard, which houses numerous companies from the same locale. And these businesses brought along over 370 films to sell, 30 more than last year. And these celluloid treats are being screened in brand new theaters that play 35mm, 16mm or almost any form of video you can come up with.
Fraulein Probst added, "The cinemas here in this market are better than those in Cannes or the AFM." So there!
No wonder there were over 2000 accredited Market participants including buyers from the specialty divisions of Universal Pictures, Buena Vista, Paramount, Sony Classics, Fine Line and USA Films.
Paul Cohen, C.E.O. of the brand new Manhattan Pictures International Inc. (formerly of Stratosphere) was also here and he was having a blast racing from one screening to another with his associate T.C. Rice at his side. "It's easy to get around," he said as he was leaving the British Council booth. "It's easy to find everyone and to do business. It's a nice set-up. And the screening rooms ARE superb relatively to those in the past. I've only a sore shoulder rather than a broken back and a kinked neck.
"I must say I saw many films I personally liked," he continued, "not to say they were particularly commercial for the United States, but they were interesting to see. Obviously, 'Italian for Beginners' was the hot buzz film and that went pretty fast. Other than that I haven't really heard of anything that was a particularly a buzz. But this Market is a very, very excellent venue for follow-up. In other words, Berlin sets the stage for Cannes and for the year in terms of finding international sellers and international cinema," Cohen concluded.
One film screening Cohen attended and left early was for "The Fluffer," directed by both Richard (Grief) Glatzer and Wash (Devil is a Bottom) West. Here again is another of those gay offerings where there's a great title, a sexy lead for the posters, and pure incompetence everywhere else. This melodramatic tale tells of a young man who rents "Citizen Kane" at a video store and is accidentally given "Citizen Cum." He immediately falls in love with the lead, Johnny Rebel (Scott Gurney), and shortly becomes the cameraman for the porn company, and soon he's also the fluffer for the stars who can't get it up. A comedy? No way.
Another screening Cohen left early was for the delightful Icelandic offering, "101 Reykjavik," directed by Baltasar Kormakur, a favorite at the Toronto Film Festival and elsewhere, about a 30-year-old slacker on the dole who gets his mother's lesbian lover pregnant on New Year's Eve.
The kinkiest plot if it's really true belongs to Miike Takashi's "Audition." I was told this is a Japanese tale about a company executive who auditions a beautiful, psychotic ballerina who cuts off his legs with piano wires. That's word of mouth, folks.
According to actual catalogue blurbs, other market films I wish I had caught included:
Joon-Ho Bong's "Barking Dogs Never Bite": An indolent university lecturer is driven crazy by the "yapping of a nearby dog."
Nils Skapans' "Brickannia": "On a planet not far away live strange bird-like creatures who eat meteorites."
Antoine Douchet's "Cum to Live": "A man and woman get stuck in a house in the Alps. Both have troubled pasts, are congenital liars and are carrying guns -- but no condoms."
That last one was definitely not a kosher film to find at The Israel Film Promotion Fund where its chairman Yoram Golam noted, "The Berlin Film Market is one of the leading film markets in the world, so it's certainly important to everybody and certainly also for Israel. It's good for small, international independent producers."
As for the state of the Israeli film industry in these times of conflict? "Well, we have here in the market," Golan noted, "two feature films: one is 'White Lies' and the other is 'The Investigation Must Go On.' We also have four documentaries in the Forum section of the Festival that will hopefully be picked up for television and other festivals. The political situation has had no impact on the film industry. Business is going on like usual."
As for sales? "It's too early to talk about it. The market is a place where you create contacts with potential buyers and then you have to follow up. Contracts are rarely signed on the spot."
Don't tell that to Noah Waxman of Amsterdam-based SND Films. A jubilant Waxman shared, "It's been really busy actually. We've had market screenings that were really packed and Festival screenings where people were sitting in the aisles for Andrea Weiss and Wieland Speck's 'Escape to Life: The Erica and Klaus Mann Story.' Bill Plympton's 'Mutant Aliens' had a good response too," indicated Waxman. "Plympton is very famous, not just in America but also in a lot of the southern European countries like Spain and France and Italy. We've had a lot of good response from them. We even made a sale to South Korea already for 'Mutant Aliens' and we've had interest also from Japan and Australia and a little interest from Lions Gate in America, too." Waxman was also chipper because SND represented two recently Oscar nominated shorts: "Father and Daughter" and "The Periwig Maker."
Kevin Franklin, Film Events Manager for the British Council, was a bit more reserved. He noted with a stiff upper lip, "This year certainly is not any wilder than any other. Steady without being too much too handle. There's been a lot of interest in Kirsten Sheridan's 'Disco Pigs,' the Irish film. Everyone's been talking about that. But I think a lot of people look to the AFM now as the place to go to buy and sell film, so maybe Berlin has declined slightly in importance."
But Franklin thought things might change for the better when Executive Director Moritz de Hadeln steps down this year and Dieter Kosslick replaces him. "Kosslick is going to be very good for the Festival. He's very energetic, very enthusiastic. I'm sure he's going to to bring a new vision to the Berlinale," Franklin continued. "Hopefully, it will go back to being a forum for new work, more experimental film. I think Hollywood has been dominating too long. It's time for the Europeans to get together and make some bigger movies but not with just a European identity. We don't want a homogenous product that's got Euro pudding stamped all over it."
Milton Tabbot, IFP Market Director, who was holding forth at the IFP Abroad booth was also looking forward to a newly run Berlinale. "Well, with the new festival head, it should mean some programming changes. Different kinds of films. We know Dieter Kosslick pretty well so I would say the American films in competition will be more interesting."
As for the Berlinale's worth this year? "Berlin is always worthwhile for us," continues Tabbot. "We've run a stand for 5 years. Previously we were at the Kodak stand. They hosted us. This year we took on our own stand and brought in some other sales companies with us to form a little North Americans in Berlin section.
"Also we brought over ten films from the IFP market (e.g. "Bombay Eunuch"; "Children Underground"; and "On the Q.T.") and we've screened them here in the Berlin Market. Then we also provide a home, just a basic message service for other indies, festival programmers, small distribution companies, and individual filmmakers.
"In terms of our films," Tabbot added, "we've done quite well this year. We had several that won awards just before we brought them here. Two from Sundance and one from Rotterdam. The film 'Promises,' a documentary which won an audience award at Rotterdam, is doing well here with a lot of interest on the sales front. The same with 'Southern Comfort' and 'Pie in the Sky.'"
It makes you want to go out and kiss a German.