Cautionary tales in Berlin

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Frosty weather isn't the only thing giving buyers and sellers a chill as they gear up for this week's European Film Market, which comes during a global economic crisis that's casting a pall over the German capital.

"There is a sense of uncertainty and disequilibrium — people are a little off-balance," Fortissimo co-chief Michael Werner said. "But you've got to remember that we haven't seen most of these buyers for four months, since Toronto and the AFM. A lot has happened in the world since then, so we'll be getting a sense of the temperature and the mood at the market."

Fortissimo is showcasing footage of four new titles at the market, including "Face," by Chinese director Tsai Ming-Liang.

But Werner admitted that economic pressure on buyers means anyone hawking films at the EFM "will have to be realistic" when it comes to pricing.

They also should have something to show if they expect to seal a deal during the next 10 days. Although previous EFMs have been abuzz with big presales, buyers this year are playing it safe. They want to see before they sign.

"It looks like Berlin is moving from being a presales market to being a screening market," said Yoko Higuchi-Zitzmann, head of acquisitions at Germany's Telepool. "Films before that would have sold on script, buyers are now waiting for the trailer. Films before that would have sold on the trailer, buyers now are waiting for the finished film."

A handful of in-development titles are generating heat at this year's market, which opened Wednesday with a small reception:

But the bulk of sellers setting up shop at the Martin-Gropius-Bau this year should follow the (paraphrased) advice from "Field of Dreams": You've got to build it before they come.

That might be good news for some fest titles looking for sales on the back of their Berlinale debut. Such films as Lukas Moodysson's "Mammoth," Lone Scherfig's "An Education," Julie Delpy's "The Countess" and "John Rabe" from Florian Gallenberger have the advantage of being finished.

"It's a bit odd to say it in the middle of a global financial crisis, but it looks like we might be going into our best year ever," said TrustNordisk CEO Rikke Ennis, who is selling Berlinale competition titles "Mammoth," Annette K. Oelsen's "Little Solider" and "Storm" from Hans-Christian Schmid.

Few 2009 attendees are so optimistic. But EFM director Beki Probst and Berlinale head Dieter Kosslick each tried putting on a brave face. "We all can hope for a rosier future, but I think we need optimism (in order to make that happen)," Probst said.

Kosslick was more direct. "I wish you all good business. And a lot of money," he said.

Charles Masters contributed to this report.
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