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February 19, 1998 2:00 AM
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Hitting the Ground Running: Americans at the Berlinale Market

by Ryan Deussing




As the curtain rose last week on the 48th annual Berlin International Film
Festival
, a few dozen Berliners huddled outside of the Zoo Palast on
Hardenbergstrasse hoping for a glimpse of celebrity while next door
representatives from over 100 companies jockeyed for space in the
smoke-filled Cine-Center where the European Film Market screens some 300
films during the festival's 12-day stretch.


Almost 70 booths line the walls of the 3-story Cine-Center, most occupied
by European agencies promoting home-grown product or production companies
looking to make a sale. As usual, acquisition-types seem to keep a low
profile, rolling-with-the-pitches and ducking out of screenings before
producers get a chance to study their reaction. But with 13 market
screening rooms running all day, would-be buyers can rarely afford the
luxury of sitting through an entire feature.


Americans have a strong presence at this year's market, with 35 films
represented by either the IFP or Producer's Rep. Sandy Mandelberger's
International Media Resources. Both have booths where filmmakers and
producers can pick up messages, arrange meetings, and distribute flyers to
passersby. While Mandelberger's 3rd floor booth screens tapes on a
television throughout the day, the IFP's first floor stand is set up like a
bar, where filmmakers can fill up on coffee or sit down at a table with
(hopefully) interested foreign distributors. The market is clearly a
significant element of the Berlinale, as reflected by the number of films
in the festival proper that also book screenings at the Cine-Center.


"The market organizers were fed up with the glut of bad American
independents over the years," says IFP Director Michelle Byrd, explaining
Americans in Berlin (AIM), her organization's 2-year-old Kodak-sponsored
program, which this year awarded 8 features a $500 travel stipend, one
market screening, and representation through the IFP's high-profile booth.
"The booth gives filmmakers visibility," says Byrd, "but it also offers
them contact to the various companies working with the IFP, some of which
are out of reach to them otherwise." Over 20 U.S. companies are working
through the IFP booth this year, including Fox Lorber, Next Wave Films, and
Zeitgeist. IFP also held a special dinner the first weekend of the
festival, seating AIM participants with festival representatives, European
financiers, distributors, and journalists.


Sandy Mandelberger describes his company's approach to the market as a
"cooperative marketing service," offering filmmakers screenings, a booth,
and publicity for a fee of $750. Of 16 films at his booth, Mandelberger is
involved as a Producer's Rep which puts him "in the position to make a deal
or hook a film up with a sales agent while at the market." "Berlin is an
edgy, underground sort of festival," he notes. "The irony is that every
project in the market needs to be television-friendly, or it won't attract
European buyers."


Berlin buyers' tastes have changed in recent years, in part because "indie"
film is no longer a U.S. phenomenon, but an international trend. "Three
years ago if you brought a film in for under $250,000 you could expect to
make your money back at Berlin alone," says one U.S. filmmaker who invested
several thousand dollars in his film's market presence. "My gut feeling
already is that this market is a bust for an off-beat American comedy with
no stars."


Julia Loktev, whose "Moment of Impact" was selected to participate in AIM,
sees the market as a somewhat imposing opportunity. "I've been to Europe
before, but there's a tremendous difference between wandering around with a
Eurail pass and targeting European buyers. In New York I know who to
approach with my film, but here it's like picking up the white pages and
picking companies at random. For all I know I just pitched my serious
personal documentary to the Troma of Switzerland."


Producer Juan Amalbert, who sent a rough-cut of Derek Cianfrance's "Brother
Tied
" to last year's festival, is back this year with the completed film in
the market as part of AIM. "I don't know if the IFP has much cache here at
all, but they're the reason the film is here and they're really behind it.
After all, I found the film at IFFM, and IFP is screening it at Lincoln
Center in March. The film is finally getting the recognition it deserves,
and Berlin gives us the opportunity to introduce it to the whole European
market."


"It's really all about exposure," says Michelle Byrd. "This year we have a
number of films here that have never been seen before, and even if the
filmmakers are totally green, we're showing Europeans -- who are irritated
with Hollywood -- independent films like they've never seen."


[Ryan Deussing is the Managing Editor of the Independent Film & Video
Monthly as well as a film contributor to the Village Voice.]

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