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DAILY DISPATCH FROM BERLIN: German Chancellor’s Visit Shines Even Greater Spotlight on Expanded EFM

DAILY DISPATCH FROM BERLIN: German Chancellor's Visit Shines Even Greater Spotlight on Expanded EFM

At the Berlinale on Friday, George Clooney caused a stir among media and fans over at Potsdamer Platz, but a power player whose influence trumps any of the buyers, sellers, or stars doing business in Berlin stepped onto the floor of the expanded European Film Market at Martin Gropius Bau. New German Chancellor Angela Merkel spent nearly 45 minutes touring the EFM and chatting with film industry attendees at the Berlinale at about 1 p.m. Friday afternoon. Accompanied by Berlinale festival director Dieter Kosslick, longtime EFM head Beki Probst and Germany’s Minister for Media and Cultural Affairs Bernd Neumann, Merkel visited with a number of companies while walking around the massive new EFM at the famed local site, Martin Gropius Bau.

Get the latest news, buzz and iPOP photos from the Berlinale in indieWIRE’s special Berlin International Film Festival section.

Funded by the German federal government, the EFM moved to the new venue this year, expanding significantly as it filled a hole in the annual market calendar left by the recent move of the American Film Market to a Fall slot. More than 240 companies from 45 countries are on hand for this year’s market which includes more than twice as much exhibition space. Organizers were even forced to add more office space in a nearby Potsdamer Platz office tower to accommodate demands from buyers and sellers.

Accompanied by a small entourage, and followed by a handful of journalists, Chancellor Merkel dropped in at the large ground floor booth of the MEDIA Programme of the European Union and also visited German Films area, later making her way upstairs and spending time at Celluloid Dreams, then Focus Features. Talking with Hengameh Panahi of Celluloid Dreams and Alison Thompson at Focus, Merkel learned a bit about the business of films sales, later quipping that she learned first hand “that film distribution is an art in itself.”

While chatting with execs at the spacious Focus office at the EFM, Merkel could be seen conversing near a large wall display for the company’s Oscar nominee, “Brokeback Mountain.” One insider joked that such promotion was worth the price Focus Features paid this year to establish a booth at the EFM for the first time.

“For all of us, for Dieter and for the market, this visit of course is very important,” explained EFM director Beki Probst, in a conversation with indieWIRE after spending time accompanying the German leader on the EFM tour. Clearly both enthused and relieved by the success of the visit, Probst called 2006 the “year of the market” at the Berlinale, explaining, “With the new location, the accent is on the market this year.”

The new EFM at Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin. Photo by indieWIRE

The new EFM has had insiders buzzing in Berlin and while some expressed a typical resistance to change, most embraced the larger venue as they familiarized themselves with the new, more opulent surroundings. “This is so much better than the car showroom,” offered a key EFM attendee, chatting with indieWIRE on Friday, dismissing the former EFM site at the DaimlerChrysler lobby in Potsdamer Platz. On the first two days at Martin Gropius Bau, buyer and sellers were upbeat about a new environment that offers more space to meet and greet. While others praised organizers for making sure that the entire market floor was quipped with wi-fi Internet access.

“At the end of the day you can move to the most beautiful building,” Probst told indieWIRE on Friday, “But, (the market must) fulfill its role — that business is done.” A veteran of EFM, having led the event for 16 years, she maintains personal relationships with the industry’s key buyers and sellers (when not in Berlin she is an exhibitor back home in Switzerland). Sitting in her office on the lower level of Martin Gropius Bau where many industry types visit and also sort out any unexpected problems that may arise, Probst reiterated the importance of face-to-face meetings at gatherings such as this, hoping that her recent move to the expanded setting will foster even more such relationships and lead to an even greater number projects and business deals. Expectations are high.

“A market is not only the 645 films that we have here, those are already gone in one way,” Probst told indieWIRE, “Its what’s coming up, what’s in the pipeline — how does the future look?” Concluding she added, “I am not a pessimist, but I am hoping that in a few days people will not only be telling me that this is a beautiful building, but that it’s a good place to make business.”

ABOUT THE WRITER: Eugene Hernandez is the Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief of indieWIRE.

Get the latest news, buzz and iPOP photos from the Berlinale in indieWIRE’s special Berlin International Film Festival section.

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