Winter Fests Sundance, Rotterdam and Berlin Jumpstart World Film Market
by Anthony Kaufman
With the Sundance Film Festival getting underway tomorrow, the Park City event marks a starting point for buyers and sellers from across the globe. Especially in light of the winter's key clearinghouse, the American Film Market (AFM), moving out of February to November, there's now a vacuum in the annual indie biz calendar that frosty festivals like Sundance, Rotterdam, and Berlin could begin to fill.
"We did a lot of work this year on the industry side of the festival," says Sundance programmer John Cooper, "in general, making it an easier, kindler, gentler place to do film business." Sundance's biggest innovations this year include the installment of a year-round Sundance Industry Office and a website called "The Source," which offers contact information for both attending companies and films.
Elizabeth Richardson, Manager of the Sundance Industry Office (SIO) says The Source has been embraced by both sides of the biz: "the filmmakers have been thrilled to see a list of companies to target and on the company side, they're grateful to have contact info for the films to reach out to immediately."
"Sundance has become an increasingly viable market," says Sony Pictures Classics exec Dylan Leiner, "and with the addition of 'The Source' this year, it is finally admitting that and implementing a system whereby business for people from around the world will be made easier."
Richardson says Sundance expects more international attendees than ever before, due in large part, she says, to early outreach efforts and the presence of someone like herself to handle logistics all year long. "It's a large and confusing festival," she adds, "so it's great to have someone here who've you been in touch with for months."
In addition to early communications with the international biz community as soon as the program was announced, Sundance also offered passes to buyers and sellers before they were open to the public, and new this year, industry passes will allow entrance to press screenings for all of the festival's four competition sections (Dramatic, Documentary, World Dramatic and World Documentary).
Some of the foreign distributors trolling for product in Park City include Japanese buyers Gaga, Asmik Ace, Nippon Herald, and Pony Canyon, French companies Pathe, Ocean Films, MK2, and Diaphana, and other niche distribs including Australia's Palace Films and the UK's Metro Tartan (who've recently launched a U.S. arm Tartan Films).
ThinkFilm's Daniel Katz says the company will be trying to take advantage of Sundance's new international contingent: foreign rights for the distributor's documentary entry "Murderball" are available. "And we'll definitely be willing to sell," he says. On the other hand, available international titles in Park City have an uphill battle; as ThinkFilm's Katz admits, "Of course, the focus is without a doubt on English language North Americans films and, even more so, because the DVD value is so significantly less for foreign language films."
Still, some foreign execs are staying optimistic. "The outlook is definitely much more hopeful for foreign films thanks to the creation of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section," says Bavaria Film International's managing director Michael Weber, who will be shepherding foreign-lingo pics Malgorzata Szumowska's "Stranger," Hans W. Geissendorfer's "Snowland," and Hendrik Holzemann's "Off Beat" to Park City.
The festival will also host a number of foreign productions that are in the English language that have already proven their market potential: Aussie world cinema entry "Wolf Creek" can already claim the biggest and quickest purchase of the fest; Dimension Films reportedly forked over $3.5 million for the horror film in Australia weeks before its Sundance world premiere.
Other English-language foreign-made entries to watch are "Dear Wendy," Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg's courageous return to Park City after being lambasted for his ambitious 2003 premiere "It's All About Love," and Gaby Dellal's family drama "On a Clear Day," starring Peter Mullan and Brenda Blethyn (being sold by Icon Entertainment International). French sales company Wild Bunch will also enter the fray with special screening "The Emperor's Journey," a "Winged Migration" of sorts for penguins in Antarctica.
While most U.S. execs won't visit the Rotterdam Film Festival and CineMart (beginning the day Sundance ends on January 30), preferring to wait until Berlin to catch the best of the fest in the European Film Market, execs could get a jump on several notable entries screening first in the Netherlands: Scandinavian standouts "Hawaii, Oslo" (Norway); "Dalecarlians" (Sweden) and Nicholas Winding Refn's "With Blood On My Hands: Pusher II" (Denmark); and Asian genre efforts "Neighbor #13," from music video director Inoue Yasuo, and "Ab-Normal Beauty" by Hong Kong's Oxide Pang.
American films will make a splash in Rotterdam, as well, with Caveh Zahedi's "I am a Sex Addict," Morgan J. Freeman's "Killer" and Sundance competitor, Georgina Garcia Riedel's "How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer," along with a trio of world premiere U.S-themed documentaries: "A Portrait of America as A Young Empire (In Its Own Words)," "Guiliani Time," directed by veteran doc cinematographer Kevin Keating, and "Occupation: Dreamland," a profile of U.S. soldiers in a military base near Fallujah.
Most distributors, though, are setting their sights on the Berlin Film Festival and its concurrent European Film Market (Feb. 10-20). With the American Film Market out of the picture, the EFM has the most to gain, possibly becoming a major winter market on the order of Cannes' summertime Marche.
"I think this year will represent a transition year for Berlin," says Sony Classics' Leiner. "The market certainly has greater ambitions given the change in the landscape and will serve more important in the future. However," adds Leiner, "I don't think this year will mark much of a change. The festival will still be a festival with the European market attached but will neither draw the same crowds nor same buyers and sellers as AFM or Cannes."
While this year's official Berlin lineup doesn't appear promising from a biz point of view -- few potential standouts include tradition-of-quality opener Régis Wargnier's "Man to Man"; Andre Téchiné's "Changing Times," starring heavyweights Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu; Jacques Audiard's "De battre mon coeur s'est arrete"; Alain Corneau's "Les mots bleus"; Yoji Yamada's "The Hidden Blade"; Brazilian helmer Claudio Torres' "Redeemer" and Brit filmmaker Dominic Savage's "Love and Hate" -- many execs point to the EFM as a source for strong titles.
"We've usually bought one or two films," says Wellspring's Marie-Therese Guirgis, who acquired "Red Lights" and "Wild Side." "The French unveil all their new movies; there are always good things in the market."
Daniel Katz says it all depends on what happens in Park City. "If Sundance is disappointing," he says. "Berlin will become more of a marketplace."