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Berlin Notes #1

Berlin Notes #1

This is a very cursory look at where I spent two weeks in February.  It is by no means complete, but it gives you some idea about how I spend so much of my time.

The Berlinale is an A-festival, founded in 1951 at the height of the Cold War.  It accredits about 20,000 industry visitors and about 4,000 journalists each year with a total of 130 countries.  It is one of the largest public festivals, selling about 300,000 tickets.  The actual figure is 303,077 up 1.2% from last year’s 299,362).  Aside from the Competition, it has 10 other sections and series, from children’s films to retrospectives. This year The Weimar Touch and also an homage to Claude Lanzmann were especially appealing to me.  See more on the EFM website

The Berlinale, which ran Feb. 7 to 17 includes the Festival, the European Film Market, the second largest market after Cannes, Talent Campus, Meet the Docs, The Co-Production Market and possibly other sections I am missing here.  EFM registered a greater number of exhibitors than last year and they saw brisk sales for competition films including Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, Chilean Sebastian Lelio’s Gloria (which won a Silver Bear for actress Paulina Garcia), as well as films from other sections and from the market itself. I am offering a report called Winter Rights Roundup which lists all the buying activity, not only for the Berlinale but also for Sundance.  It includes links to the companies.

While around 400 films screened in thefestival (out of about 7,000 applications), 890 films screened in the market (600 were market premieres) to more than 8,000 participants from 95 countries. 1,690 of those were distributors in Berlin to buy rights from 172 international sales agents.

The EFM offered a new introduction to the market, “Shortcuts for First-Timers” on the first day of the Market, It was held in the Mirror Restaurant and 300 or 400 people attended. Thursday February 7 from 3.00 – 4.30 pm.  I attended since I participate in the Cannes First-Timers event. The panelists were quite clear but I  wished their names were in front of them.  And I wondered who was in the audience.  There is also possibly a replay of the panel but I don’t know where to find it for reference.  There was a back screen which might have been used by showing a map of the market, or the names of those speaking or other graphics to help illustrate their points.  They pointed out that red lights served to point out all the paths and venues used by the festival and market.  That was very clever and once I knew to look for them, they helped me find new places.

They announced a new Berlinale Residency Program for writers/ directors who will have a four month stay in Berlin to work on their fiction, doc or cross-media project with the help of script consultants and industry experts from September to December.  In February the residents return to present their projects at the Berlinale Co-Production Market to find further co-producers and financiers.  This year 6 filmmakers were invited.

They didn’t mention the free WiFi for every registrant and the password written on the badges themselves.

I myself gave tours around the Martin Gropius Bau where most of the market takes place to participants at the Talent Campus and Deutsche Welle Akademie where I also taught about the international film business to Asian, African, Latin American and Caribbean film festival organizers.  The tours are a great way to understand how the market works, who the people are, what company cultures are and how to understand them in order to operate optimally.  I do the same thing for first timers in Cannes.

My partner Peter and I also had two clients there; one had his film in the market already and the other was following up with meetings with interested international sales agents.  As it was their first time in Berlin, we were very pleased to see them take to it so easily.

It was only in the last two days I could actually see movies.  But I caught up on lots of gossip along the way.  For instance, I had not realized that Turner Broadcasting had bought a Norwegian sales agent and distributor for Scandinavia until Michael Werner who headed sales for NonStop told me that two years after their buyout they were now letting go of 400 people and Michael Werner and the international sales division were included.

I also heard about a new educational program called Making Waves.  Five film schools including  including the London Film School under the leadership of Ben Gibson and Columbia Film School under the leadership of Ira Deutchman brought students to Berlin and the students were making business plans for the sales and distribution of films in the market.  Making Waves is a new week long distribution and marketing workshop devised by the London Film School in partnership with La fémis, the dffb, l’ESCAC, the Romanian Film and Theatre University and New York’s Columbia University of the Arts Film Department. Held in parallel to the Berlinale, 30 participants from the 6 film training institutions are immersed in all areas of the Berlinale: the European Film Market, the Festival and the Talent Campus where they work collaboratively in teams to develop creative campaigns, edit trailers, design posters and plan roll-out packages for actual independent films in the European Film Market.  They are joined by experienced industry professionals working in the independent distribution sector who offer in-depth case studies. This hands-on workshop is for graduating students to gain understanding in emerging strategies in independent film distribution.

Venice seems to be working on student initiatives as well with a call for entries to the Biennale College. Unlike festivals that call for finished films, the Biennale College asked for up-and-comers to submit their ideas. The best proposals get 150,000 euros in seed money and the filmmakers are matched with some of the industry’s finest practitioners who would help turn their treatments into reality, with a guaranteed screening at Venice in the summer. After narrowing it down to 15 semifinalists out of hundreds of submissions from around the globe, organizers this month announced three winners, each from a different continent. From the United States, director Tim Sutton and producer John Baker have won a spot with their yet-to-be-made film called Memphis, which follows the transformation of Ezra Jack, ‘from beloved soul singer to ecstatic contemplator,’ said judges in their review. From Thailand, director Nawapol Thanrongratanarit and producer Aditya Assarat won with their submission The Year of June, which follows a year in the life of an anonymous female student in Bangkok through her Twitter status. And from Italy, director Alessio Fava and producer Max Chicco won the last spot with Yuri Esposito, about a documentary film crew who follows a man who lives in a state of perennial sluggishness, whose wife all of a sudden gets pregnant. Buzz around the competition, which has the potential to launch unknowns into stardom, has been mounting for months. “To me the promise of a Venice debut is even a bigger deal than the money, because it’s one thing to make a movie and quite another to have a chance for the entire international press to see it,” said San Francisco Chronicle film critic Mick LaSalle. “In fact, it’s quite a big deal to make a movie, as an unknown, knowing that international exposure is guaranteed. The whole question mark – even if this turns out great, will anybody ever see it? – is eliminated”. Ensuring a fresh batch of talent, competition rules stipulated that the submission must be the applicant’s first or second film endeavor. Earlier this month, semifinalists took part in a 10-day workshop with veteran filmmakers and cinema experts in Venice. “The key is that masters in cinema were present here during the workshop to help participants along,” says Paolo Baratta, president of the Biennale, the festival body that oversees the annual film fest. Organizers then narrowed it down to the three winners, who will receive funding thanks in part to Italian luxury fashion designer Gucci. In just 15 days the filmmakers will get a jumpstart on making micro-budget feature films before screening them at Venice August 28 through September 7. The winners will also get online distribution, adding to their much-needed visibility at the dawn of their careers. Organizers of the Venice Film Festival, the oldest in the world, say mixing veteran mentors with young blood is key to sustaining cinema as an art as well as keeping the festival relevant. “It is an initiative whose constant development will be continued for years to come,” Baratta says.  See Variety Feb 11 – 17, 2013.  You know this is in response and attests to the success of the the Berlinale Talent Campus which just completed its 11th year.

And in France, Cinefondation has brought U.S. director Barney Elliott to its six month residence program in Paris where he wrote the first draft of Oliver’s Deal and later developed it at Amsterdam’s Binger Filmlab.  It is now set to star Edward Burns and Spain’s Alberto Ammann.  Marina Fuentes of Dreamcatches will bring the film to the market.  Christine Vachon is exec producing.  It will start shooting in May in New York and will travel to Lima, Peru and Huarez in the Anders.

Other notes gathered during this intense 10 day experience were Russian filmmaker Andrey Khvostov made a summer love story called Saint Petersburg which is being sold by Aktis Film International.  Of course I want to see this especially because Rosskino hosted a trip last year to St. Petersburg for distributors after holding screenings of current films on offer.  St. Peterburg of one of the most beautiful cities in the world; and the film has an original score by Sergei Yetushenko (The Last Station, Russian Ark). 

Also Alberto Antonio Dandolo whom I met in Havana, was in his new home town Berlin continuing to sell The Cuban Wives about the wives of the Cuban 5 who are imprisoned in the United States. 

Other news of interest includes The Match Factory’s Distribution 2.0 VOD initiative  which will release its first film, Postcards from the Zoo.  Partnering with Euro VoD platforms in France, Ireland, Switzerland, Spain, Peccadillo Pictures in U.K. and Eye Film Institute in the Netherlands, The Match Factory will coordinate marketing activities.  This exploration of new marketing and distribution avenues for international arthouse features has the support of the EU’s Media Mundus.

BackUp, the Paris based financier is launching a new rights management software Movie Chainer on April 30, two weeks ahead of the Cannes Film Festival.  This cloud based app enables AV rights holders to track contracts, generate exploitation and availability reports and calculate revenue splits and repayment schedules in a clear and visual style.  The Cannes March’s database and networking platform Cinando will host and support the launch.  The first live version of Movie Chainer will be available free to all industry professionals for a maximum of three projects and a demo version and presentation of the software is available here.

Former Arte Cinema chief Michel Reilhac has reactivated his production company Melange with a $6.7 million multi-platform project exploring the world of high endurance sport ultra-trailing.  The work will revolve around six blocks or storylines, unfolding on several platforms – the web, the real world, tv. over six months in the second half of 2014. 

New international sales agent out of Poland, New Europe, which picked up two US in Progress films, Now Forager and I Used to be Darker, has also picked up Papusza, the story of the first published Romany Gypsy woman poet, whose work enraged her patriarchal community.  Poland is also coming out with films by up and coming female directors two of which are in the official selection: 39 year old Malgorzata Szumowska has In the Name Of about homosexuality within the Polish Catholic Church (picked up for U.S by Film Movement) in the Main Competition, and Baby Blues, a story about teenage parents by Katarzyna Roslaniec in Generation.  Izabela Kiszka, head of international relations at the Polish Film Institute, the country’s major public film funder, says both films are “daring, important, modern and up-to-date Eruopean cinema”.  Both films are produced by Agnieszka Kurzydlo of Mental Disorder 4 and Szumowska is co-producer of both.  Zentropa Poland is also a co-producer.

International sales agent We Pictures of China is producing a $9 million film called American Dreams in China, to be directed by Peter Ho-Sun Chan and photographed by Christopher Doyle.  One of the protagonists teaches English in a Kentucky Fried Chicken store in China and invites his two other friends to partake in his “New Vision” where thousands of students wanting to go to the U.S. to follow their “American Dream” flock to the class.

David Castellanos formerly of Latido, has found success in his own international sales company, Cinema Republic.  Their film The Clown was the Brazilian entry for Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and has wracked up 1.5 million admissions in Brazil.  At EFM he is premiering Camina o Revienta which features first time director Paco Leon and stars a top Spanish TV actor and his real-life mother.  It was the first day & date release in Spain and worked quite well.  The Dumbass (Muro Mula) is also by a first time director and was filmed on a low $30K budget.  It comes from Guaemala and features great music and is an example of the new wave of Latin American comedy.  18 Meals is the actor Luis Tozar’s first production and is directed by first timer Jorge Coira.  It sold to Argentina and Japan, won for Best Director in Taorima IFF, the Audience Award and Jury Special Mention at Ourense IFF, and won Best Film and Audience Award at La Laguna Gastronomic IFF.  Yummy: six seemingly unconnected stories in which food is the common demominator make up a romantic comedy set in Santiago de Compostela.  It is available for viewing at Cinando as is The Clown and Carmina or Blow Up.

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