BERLIN 2002: Some Times You Feel Like Buying A Film, Sometimes You Don't
by Mark Rabinowitz
As the 2002 European Film Market (EFM) wound down last week, the building took on the feel of the last day of school after all the exams are over, or, more accurately, the last day of summer camp. For those not continuing on to the American Film Market (AFM) in Santa Monica later this month, it was time to say goodbye to friends old and new, have a last lunch at the cafe with a prospective buyer or seller, or even to sneak away from your market stand to see a film or two.
As far as this year's EFM goes, the consensus among both buyers and sellers is that it was an exceedingly slow year in terms of acquisitions. In fact, virtually the entire U.S. acquisitions corps left Berlin with 4 or 5 days left in the event. And as one veteran sales agent put it, "they were mostly lower-level people, except for (Sony Pictures Classics co-president) Michael Barker," referring to the absence of company chiefs such as UA's Bingham Ray, Fine Line's Mark Ordesky, ContentFilm's John Schmidt, Artisan's Amir Malin, ThinkFilm's Mark Urman, and Lions Gate's Tom Ortenberg.
When asked about the hot films at this year's market, another long-time sales agent replied, "Are there any?" Prevailing opinion seemed to point to the 2002 EFM as the place where deals may have started but have yet to be closed, although a few films have been mentioned as being "in play." Annette K. Olesen's Danish family drama "Minor Mishaps," a competition film, garnered quite a bit of praise, as did German competition entry "Halbe Treppe," ("Grill Point") directed by Andreas Dresen.
One of the best reviewed films of the festival was Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away," a competition film that shared the Golden Lion, whose U.S. rights are owned by Buena Vista. Rumor around the fest was that BV doesn't plan on releasing the film theatrically in the States, and that would be a shame. While Miyazaki's last film "Princess Mononoke" didn't fare very well at the U.S. box office, Buena Vista is masterful at marketing animated films and with a project this special, they ought to at least give it a chance.
Largely-praised market films include Pan Nalin's German, French and Italian co-production "Samsara," a beautifully moving story of a Buddhist monk who questions his faith, and Mamoru Oshii's "Avalon," in which an addictive computer game offers an escape from real life. In an original twist, "Avalon" is a Japanese production shot in Polish with an all-Polish cast and a Japanese crew. Miramax is set to release both "Samsara" and "Avalon" in the U.S. An exec from a smaller U.S. distributor, who would only name films he liked but did not intend to bid on, mentioned "Kami no ko tachi" (God's Children), Hiroshi Shinomiya's Japanese doc about Filipino children who live in a garbage dump, and "Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House," a doc about two Jewish lesbian grandmothers. The film was directed by 2002 Oscar-nominee Deborah Dickson ("LaLee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton").
One of the most anticipated films of the festival was "Amen," directed by
Costa-Gavras ("Missing," "Z"). The film focuses on the Vatican's silence during WWII, despite their knowledge of the Holocaust. However, the film
screened during the last half of the fest and not even a provocative poster that juxtaposes a cross and a swastika could entice U.S. buyers to stay. In the end, the film was flawed but salvageable with a few edits, making it seem likely to get picked up for U.S. release.
One event from this year's EFM was the simultaneous retirement of Christa Saredi and Helen Loveridge, two of the longest running, most successful sales agents in the business. I sat down for a few minutes with Ms. Loveridge and asked her to name a few of her favorite films she's helped sell during her time with Jane Balfour, Fortissimo Films and Orpheo. Without hesitating, she mentioned one of her "five most favorite films ever," Hou Hsiao-hsien's "The Time To Live and The Time To Die." Other Balfour favorites included "Tampopo" and "Salaam Bombay," the wildly successful debut film from Mira Nair ("Monsoon Wedding"), which received a foreign language Oscar nod in 1989. From Fortissimo, Balfour lists Wong Kar-wai's "Chungking Express" among her faves, and makes special notice of the "incredible buyers stampede for 'Beautiful People' at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival." Rounding out her list are the Orpheo successes "Monsoon Wedding" and "La Ci&eacut;naga, the first five minutes of which she says she could watch every day.
While they have been friends for many years and had talked about working together several times prior to joining up in 2000, Saredi and Loveridge have vied for the same films several times over the years, as is wont to happen. In fact, Loveridge playfully mentioned losing out on the sales rights to Ang Lee's "The Wedding Banquet," to Saredi as one of the biggest disappointments in her career. "Years later when we [Fortissimo] got [Stefan Ruzowitzky's Austrian film] "The Inheritors", Christa said: 'I was hoping you would stick to Asian Films,' and I replied: 'you might have thought about that before you went after 'The Wedding Banquet.'"
While the distribs had mostly packed up and left, the festival programmers stuck around late last week, with films such as Francois Ozon's competition film "8 Femmes" (due for release from USA Films this fall), Korean Forum entry (and Rotterdam and Pusan fest fave) "Take Care of My Cat," directed by Jae-eun Jeong, and Rotterdam Golden Tiger winner Eugenie Jansen's "Tussenland," likely to screen at various festivals in the coming months.
The slowness of this year's EFM could conceivably be blamed on any number of factors. Global economic slowdown, general post-9/11 stress, a paucity of good films, distributors scouting and buying films in advance or an overall glut in the marketplace. In my opinion, however, these things run in cycles, and sometimes there's a slowdown. There's no reason to believe that next year's market won't be a banner year.