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In a Time of Economic Crisis, Looking for Life Rafts in Berlin

By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire February 7, 2009 at 6:39AM

"Is the sky falling?" asked industry insiders on Saturday afternoon at the Berlinale, "Is it as bad as it seems to be?" Questions about the state of the film business continued to invoke Mark Gill's provocative speech that was published last summer in indieWIRE.
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"Is the sky falling?" asked industry insiders on Saturday afternoon at the Berlinale, "Is it as bad as it seems to be?" Questions about the state of the film business continued to invoke Mark Gill's provocative speech that was published last summer in indieWIRE.

The international economic crisis' impact on the movie business has been a constant topic back home, so it's no surpirse that it comes up frequently while networking in the halls of Martin Gropius Bau, site of the European Film Market that runs concurrent with the annual Berlin International Film Festival. Numerous folks have been saying in recent days that the EFM feels quieter this year, with sellers bemoaning a sizable drop in the prices that buyers will pay for the movies on sale here.

Yet, the event is still a magnet for movie industry types, even if many of them spend even more time than usual trying to make sense of this year's soft sales market. Attendance is on par with last year here at the EFM, boasting nearly 1,500 buyers from some 59 countries, this year's European Film Market has an estimated 6,500 person attendance. 659 films are screening at the EFM, 521 of which are market premieres this year.

"This is a challenging time on a lot of levels," offered Patrick Russo from consultants The Salter Group, reflecting on what he called a global economic phenomenon unlike any seen in our lifetimes. He was one of the panelists at the second industry debate taking place this weekend. Focusing on the state of film finanancing, the conversation was held this evening in front of a standing room only crowd. "The traditional lenders to this industry, many of them are just gone." He noted that financiers have either "merged, consolidated, been taken over by governments, shut down or otherwise vanished."

The sessions are sponsored by Commerzbank, which has actually increased its funding in movies, despite the tough economic climate. Optimistically, more than one panelist noted that moviegoing in theaters is up, even as the stability of ancillary revenue sources feels a bit flat at best.

"It's always been said that the entertainment industry does well in times of crisis," noted the generally upbeat Dieter Kosslick, festival director at the Berlinale, in prepared remarks during the EFM.

Surviving in the economic downturn could require months or years, Salter's Patrick Russo noted. "We just don't know," it will take, "Patience and time and focus, that's what is required right now."

Participants in today's panel noted that lasting through the hard times requires being nimble and embracing international European co-productions that can tie together funding from various countries to get a movie made, even if those funding schemes can sometimes be complicated.

"We have a long history of doing co-productions," noted Jens Meurer from independent Egoli Tossell Film. "Sure, I wish it was less complicated, but I enjoy sitting with the Russians and drinking lots of vodka. It's complicated, but if that's the lifeline, I'll take it."

"Ultimately, as long as somebody still wants to see the movie, and they do, we still have a business plan," offered Meurer, "We are not going to say that's it and say goodbye Berlinae and go home, are we?"

This article is related to: Features, Festival Dispatch