American Film Market in Santa Monica, Ca.-(March & November, 04)

AMERICAN FILM MARKET IN SANTA MONICA

Santa Monica — Causing the most comment, and a definite innovation at the 2004 American Film Market was the huge presence of Internet (dot.com) companies. No one knows whether or not the dot.coms will revolutionize the business of buying and selling of independent films will be transacted in the future. And the dot.coms were coming out of the woodwork in Santa Monica, what with huge promotion banners draped over the balconies of the atrium, as was the case with Filmbazaar.com, and page after page of ads in the trade dailies and weeklies.

A dozen of the latter were distributed each day at the entrance to the Loews by babes forming a veritable battery of handouts of informative magazines. There must have been a dozen of these "trades" circulating, ranging from the Hollywood Reporter to the Parisian Le Film Françoise. Some of the dot.coms were new. Others had already surfaced at the Toronto Film Festival last fall as well as in Milan for the MIFED in October and certainly in Sundance just this past January.

For the 12th year running, trade professionals elbowed their ways through the hallways of the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, the main venue of the market. Jonathan Wolf is vice-president of the American Film Market Association, which organizers of the event. This year, Wolf said, there were 149 sales companies on hand, most of them from the U.S.,and 327 exhibitors. The market showed over 400 feature films, up 14% over last year, according to Wolf. While the central focus of activity of the mart is the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, where buyers and sellers huddle in the suites on seven floors as well as in the huge atrium of the hotel and around the large outdoor pool, the screenings transpired on 23 screens in six nearby theatres within walking distance.

Certainly, the AFM has come a long way since the days in 1981 when it organized its first market after years of disgruntlement with Cannes and its ancillary market, which had been the main international emporium for the buying and selling of independent product until then. Though the AFM never succeeded in its aim of making the Cannes market superfluous or of eliminating Milan‘s MIFED market (held in October), it successfully consolidated its own position. The AFM’s clout is probably greater than ever before, more so now with the advent of US-based internet companies plunging headlong into the field and the hefty presence of foreign production and sales companies involved in financing US films and vice versa.

AMERICAN FILM MARKET ATTRACTS ASIAN, EURO PRESENCE

For the second year in a row at AFM, the market hosted  a continued increasing number of sellers from Korea, as well as escalated attendance from every key territory in the world, from Argentina to Norway.   Cineclick, Asia‘s first internet sales company, peddled a raft of features. The Japanese were out in force as well, with sales suites occupied by Shochiku, Kahukura Productions, Fuji Bank Ltd., Toei Company, to name just a few. Some big purchases have been racked up by Nippon banners over the recent past   One large Japanese banner, Gaga communications, had a 31-member delegation at the AFM.

Europeans, too, were very visible, both for sales and purchases. Four large Spanish companies took Loews’ suites, including Aurum, Sogepaq, Filmax and Andrés Vicente Gómez’s Lolafilms, the country’s biggest producer, who announced a slate of 20 features to be produced over the coming years. Germany was repped by Bavaria Film International, Atlas International, Export Union, Sascha Film, Studio Babelsberg, Initial Entertainment Group (half owned by German Splendid Group). Many eyes have been on the push by German heavyweights, such as distrib/exhib Kinowelt (which has joint ventures with Canada‘s Alliance Atlantis) to enter the U.S. arena more directly. Kathy Morgan, Chairwoman of the AFMA, recently averred that German companies now contribute up to 15% of the financing for bigger-budget Hollywood independent films, about double that of five years ago

The inclusion of 35 films that screened at the Sundance Film festival was considered an added coup for the market and was designed to heighten interest for buyers from around the world seeking the next American "sleeper".   The AFMA also included various "premiere" screenings of new products.

Running concurrently with the film market four of the days were symposia organized by the AFMA. One, pointedly, zeroed in on the question "Will the Internet and E-commerce Change How Films are financed?" Two other days were dedicated to the future of feature film financing, and the fourth to production of Latino films in the U.S.

Though the dot.com phenomenon may have added a new wrinkle in the sales patterns, the overwhelming presence of U.S. films on screens around the world, and their ever-increasing market share, is sure to reinforce the importance of the American Film Market. Indeed, highlighting the growth in the industry, the AFMA added a second AFM market, for the first time, scheduled for November 2004.