Berlin, first a festival (since 1951), then a theatrical market, albeit a “niche” one, focusing on arthouse movies, more or less the same as those at the festival, or similar productions.
The Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin, also known as the Berlinale (8-18 February 2007), has won itself a new venue and a new status, a little like the city that hosts it, once a frontier town, “a small capitalist fortress besieged by the Bolsheviks”, now the capital of a united Germany.
Over the years the movies have changed, the Americans have begun to show interest in the event (a launch pad for films with Oscar potential) and the parallel market which is destined to grow.
The change in balance caused by the movement of the AFM from March to November and the death of Mifed have done the rest. Unchallenged, the Berlin market dominates the long empty period between Los Angeles in November and Cannes in May.
What has changed or is changing for the European Film Market which, until now, has had a clear “arthouse” character?
A lot, according to Italian exporters, so much so that it may lead to the distortion of what have, until now, been its winning features.
The number of exhibiting companies is growing, their typology is changing, as is that of the products presented and this could radically transform the event’s strategic importance (and maybe has already done so).
The chorus is basically unanimous, albeit with the appropriate subtle distinctions: Berlin is turning into a “generalist” market dominated by the Americans and more commercial productions, like Los Angeles and Cannes, thus becoming less and less interesting for the “rest of the world”. “Berlin is a growing market,” according to Sesto Cifola of Rai Trade, “held at a strategic time, at the beginning of the year, midway between Los Angeles and Cannes.
This year we will have our own exhibition space at the Martin Gropius Bau where we will present a show-reel of movies in preparation, as well as drama series (“Caravaggio”) and cartoons (“Gino the chicken-lost in the net”, dubbed into English) from our catalogue, whilst the finished products will be screened at the market. 20,000 visitors are expected to attend which means that “” given its specific nature as a market for European products “” its importance for us Italians is comparable to Cannes and Los Angeles.
Or rather, for us it counts more than the AFM, which I believe is losing its importance as a result of the crisis and excessive power of the Americans. In other words, you go to the AFM to view and negotiate for the rights to American movies; all the others are just a side dish, an extra.
For this reason I haven’t held any screenings in Los Angeles for years. Like Rai Trade I will be attending as part of a collective stand, but I am even considering not going there anymore. To sum up, in my opinion, despite having killed off Mifed by moving from the spring to the fall, the AFM is currently deeply in crisis. Conversely, the particular nature of Berlin, which is also specified in its name, makes it a festival and market that is unique of its kind in the world”.
This year’s innovation is that Rai Trade will be attending the market with its traditional “arthouse” theatrical products as well as products for TV “” dramas and cartoons “” and Italian made “direct to video” movies.
“There is no longer much of a difference between theatrical movies and TV, the various products are all handled at markets. As far as movies for video are concerned, this is a new product for us that we are testing out: it heralds a return to low cost genre cinema which made the fortune of the Italian movie industry in the past and for which there is strong market demand from the home video and cable TV sectors. These are 1-1.5 million Euro budget movies, filmed in English, for which there is still a production tradition in Italy.
For now we have two titles, co-produced with Luciano Martino, the thriller “Deadly Kite Surf”, filmed in Kenya, and the action feature “Two tigers”, shot in Shanghai”. At Berlin, Rai Trade will also be presenting “What the hell am i doing here” by Francesco Amato, winner of NICE USA 2006, and re-proposing “The true legend of Tony Vilar” and “One out of two”, which were premiered at the “Festa del Cinema” in Rome. Direct to video genre cinema can also be found in the list presented by Roberto Di Girolamo’s Filmexport Group, with the horror movie “The island of the living dead” by Vincent Dawn (alias Bruno Mattei) and the thrillers “Psycho Game” and “The Jail”, which were also presented at the AFM in November.
“We have genre and “festival” movies, such as “The ball”, which was well received at the “Festa del Cinema” in Rome.
The products still in post-production include Fanny Hill, based on the novel of the same name, and the cartoon “Noah’s Ark”, a co-production we are very pleased with due to the quality, signified by the fact that Buena Vista is the coproducer and distributor for Latin America”. With regard to the direct to video cinema market, Di Girolamo says: “30 years ago when we started out, theatrical products made up 100% of the market. Now they account for less than 30%. Distribution costs make it increasingly difficult to get into a market dominated by the Hollywood majors.
However, there are always the home video and TV markets for low budget productions. Mattei/Dawn specializes in this genre. He can even sell his movies on paper and has a following comparable to that of Bava and Fulci”. According to Di Girolamo, the current transition phase is very risky for Berlin, as it could be transformed into a “generalist” market like Cannes or Los Angeles, foregoing its specific nature and potential as the only market for certain types of product: “You have to be there if you have arthouse movies or movies which are not US produced.
However, if Berlin loses its specialist role, it will become distorted and much less interesting. Moreover, the structures are not up to such an expansion; it would be best to remain in its own specific “niche” and strengthen its position also because it has no competition”.
Paola Corvino of Intramovies also believes that the true value of Berlin lies in its specific role as the only quality European movie market. She also fears that the market will be swallowed up by the Americans who “” she thinks “” are still not happy with the AFM in its current state in terms of both the organization and dates.
“The transformation of the EFM has still not taken place but it is possible to notice a trend and, in a couple of years, this might lead to a distortion of the German market.
After snubbing it in favor of Cannes until now, 2006 saw a strong presence of Americans. Berlin has always worked for us Europeans, even when it was very close to Los Angeles. But what will happen in the future?”. Remaining faithful to arthouse movies, Intramovie will be presenting only one new movie at Berlin this year: Giacomo Campiotti’s “Never again as before”.
“This is not the time for big numbers for our movie industry, but the situation favors quality. There is more conviction amongst producers when they come to produce a film: they used to make a film because the funds were available, now the time is right for young producers who have a film and are looking for funding in order to make it. This is a much healthier relationship”. As usual, there is a varied list from Adriana Chiesa: Italian arthouse movies like “The unknown” and “Secret Journey”, “Primo Levi’s journey” and “Le rose del deserto”, as well as foreign productions (the greek “Dying in Absence” by Nicos Panayotopoulos and “Cuba’s Cuando la verdad despierta” by Angelo Rizzo), “in order to offer a richer package”.
There are also some brand new products: at Berlin the company will be announcing a collection of documentaries about Cuba by Gianni Minà . “These are six extremely interesting movies, previously unpublished material of great historical value: “Un giorno con Fidel”, summarizing a 16 hour interview in which Castro looks back at 50 years of his country’s history; “Fidel incontra il Che”; “Il Papa e Fidel”, two 90 minute episodes about Pope Wojtyla’s trip to Cuba; “Cuba 30 anni dopo”; “Il Che 40 anni dopo”; “Marcos, aqui estamos”. She also thinks that Berlin is fundamentally important not just for Italian cinema but for the European movie industry in general. “Buyers come with one objective. They are not distracted by anything else. Of course, it would be better if we Italians presented ourselves with targeted, well-organized promotional activities “” there are too many companies gathered under our movie industry’s umbrella, almost in competition with each other, which is disorienting for our foreign interlocutors. Berlin is also a very important occasion for meeting other exporters who belong to the Association, as well as our colleagues from the European Academy, to which I belong, in order to define common strategies, whilst taking care to safeguard speci- fic cultural features. The nature and strength of Berlin is that it is a platform for independent and arthouse movies. Los Angeles is no longer of any interest to us Europeans.
I don’t think I’ll be going there anymore. At this point, if Rome continues the way it has this year, it could become the third event of the year, alongside Berlin and Cannes”.
Cinema&Video International 1/2-2007