After a lean couple of years, Berlin is ready to party.
Its European Film Market kicks off on Thursday 16 February with hundreds of finished films and dozens of new packages and projects for every cinematic taste and budget. While vendors are still setting up their booths at EFM’s Martin Gropius Bau headquarters, new packages continue to arrive thick and fast.
Black Bear International, which helped close a deal with Lionsgate (for domestic market) and Amazon (for multiple international territories) for Guy Ritchie’s WWII action film The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare on the eve of Berlin, has added the sizzling musical project Fred & Ginger, about Hollywood dance legends Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, played by Jamie Bell and Margaret Qualley, to its EFM list. Black Bear will handle international sales of the project, previously on Amazon, with UTA Independent Film Group and 30WEST co-rep in the U.S.
UTA and Mister Smith Entertainment have teamed up on the gripping thriller project Wichita Libra, starring Phoebe Dynevor (Bridgerton, Fair Play), which will kick off presales in Berlin, and Mister Smith will also present the David M. Rosenthal-directed LA film The Tale crime noir The Smack with the impressive cast of Casey Affleck, Alan Arkin, Teyana Taylor, Kathy Bates and Isabel May.
International sales company The Veterans and CAA Media Finance launched Ship, a sequel to Gerard Butler’s famous vehicle Plane shortly before Berlin, with Luke Cage actor Mike Colter as the star. Highland Film Group has thrilled sci-fi fans with the release of space thriller The Astronaut, starring Emma Roberts and Laurence Fishburne from The Purge producer Brad Fuller, with CAA and UTA Independent Film Group holding domestic rights.
Archstone Entertainment has Luke Hemsworth’s adult comedy The Greatest Surf Movie in the Universe; The Exchange a psychological thriller The Cut, starring Orlando Bloom as a boxer who goes over the edge; XYZ Films is Kiefer Sutherland’s action thriller The Winter Kills. And again and again and again.
In total, there will be around 700 films screened at this year’s EFM, according to market director Dennis Ruh, who notes that the industry will be returning in strength to Berlin. “When it comes to participation levels, we expect to be back where we were in 2019 or 2020,” he says.
The last two EFMs, by contrast, have been relatively poor deals. And not just because COVID rules meant they were completely virtual. There were far fewer projects on offer, as independent producers and financiers struggled to make films. New travel and filming restrictions, lack of adequate COVID insurance and general uncertainty about the future of the theater market have turned the usual flood of new projects into Berlin into a trickle.
There was still money to be made. Last year Sony won a bidding war to pre-buy Tom Hanks’ A Man Called Otto by paying $60 million for the worldwide rights to the comedy-drama, a remake of the 2015 Swedish hit A Man Called Ove, but for the most part it was poor picks.
“In general, a film market [is] judged primarily by the volume of content for sale and only secondarily by the handful of large packages that appear to be generating buzz and driving bidding wars,” says Alison Thompson, Co-President of Cornerstone Films.
Berlin 2023 should be different.
The sheer volume and variety of films on offer at EFM: a ballerina-themed action film starring GOT’s Lena Headey from The Veterans and CAA; a high-octane horror film about an Indian teenager from Get Out producer QC Entertainment and sales group Protagonist; Korean auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda’s (Broker, Shoplifters) new arthouse drama, which Gaga and the Wild Bunch are selling; star-driven action vehicles with Liam Neeson and Christoph Waltz – should ensure that there really is something for everyone. And while quantity is no guarantee of quality, after years of starving for movies during COVID, independent distributors will be hungry and eager to fill their slates. Few will go home dissatisfied.
Variety is just what the post-COVID box office needs. There are signs of a theatrical resurgence everywhere: January’s US box office was up more than 50% from the same month last year; China’s Spring Festival box office surpassed $1 billion, making it the second-highest grosser to date; Japanese cinemas ended 2022 with an estimated gross of $1.52 billion, just 9.4% below the country’s pre-pandemic average. But, so far, the box office rebound has been overly reliant on a small group of Hollywood blockbusters – mostly Avatar: The Way of Water and Top Gun: Maverick – along with a smattering of local tentacles, like Japanese anime One Piece : Film Red and Shah Rukh Khan’s Indian action film Pathaan.
A healthy film market, however, relies on a regular supply of medium-sized blockbusters, which can only happen with increased releases. In the 10 years leading up to the COVID shutdown, from 2010 to 2019, the US averaged more than 2,300 films released annually Over the past three years, those figures were 881, 986, and last year, 1,158, still a barely more than half the number seen before the pandemic. If the movie business is really to turn the corner, it needs more volume, more second- and third-tier films being packaged, sold and distributed.
“That’s what you need for a really good, vibrant, healthy film market,” Thompson notes. “Many very different films for the business just below the flashy light business, the busy and industrious independent film business a little further down the food chain going forward.”