Euro sales agents push into Asia

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PARIS -- The European accent will be stronger than ever in Pusan this year with sales companies from the continent present in ever-increasing numbers.

In total, some 85 titles from Europe will unspool during the festival, making up a third of the total line-up. This is a 30% increase in European titles compared to last year. Capitalizing on this presence as a launch platform into the Asian market, E.U.-backed film industry body the European Film Promotion plans to ship a 23-strong party of actors, directors, producers and one writer from 13 different European countries to Pusan.

EFP is also setting up an extended umbrella office at the Asian Film Market, which can be used by the European film industry for business meetings, film screenings and the display of promotional material.

Working in close cooperation, EFP and the festival will organize various presentations, film screenings and events such as the traditional European Industry Cocktail for networking opportunities.

European filmmakers will present their films mainly in the World Cinema, Wide Angle and Open Cinema sections. Others are shown in the late-night screenings of Midnight Passion and the Flash Forward section, which was added to the festival last year as a sincere platform for next generation filmmakers. The festival is putting a focus on Romanian Cinema with its program on the Romanian New Wave. Furthermore, the festival is celebrating a retrospective of the highly acclaimed Italian directors, the Taviani Brothers, with a series of seven films.

For the fifth time, EFP is supporting selected European sales and production companies in Pusan with their marketing campaigns via the Film Sales Support initiative, which this year provides backing for 19 European films.

Reflecting the growing Gallic domination of the indie sales circuit at other international confabs, French sales companies account for nearly half of the 23 attendees who will have space on the EFP's umbrella stand.

"Korea is an important market for our films we support the PIFF and the Asian Film Market as the leading Asian film festival nowadays," says Valerie-Anne Christen, the Tokyo-based representative of Gallic film promotion body Unifrance. "Asia is certainly the third market for French films after Europe and the USA."

"For Asian buyers, local product from neighboring countries is still the priority, then Hollywood films. European movies come third on the list," adds Pusan veteran Wigbert Moschall of German sales group MDC International. But for Moschall and a growing number of European companies, Pusan is still well worth the trip. As many European markets slow down, the growth and increasing diversification in Asia is providing Euro sales outfits with more niches to exploit.

Moschall travels to Asia several times a year but sees Pusan as the most exciting market in the territory. "At the moment, Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Pusan are all fighting to see who will be the number one market in Asia," Moschall says. "I think it will come down to Hong Kong or Pusan, and Pusan is the most ambitious. They are investing heavily in infrastructure and doing everything they can to attract the top buyers."

"In Toronto, we didn't see many buyers from Asia. All the Japanese buyers will be in Pusan," observes Raphael Berdugo, head of French sales outfit Roissy Films, which is presenting the family drama "Story of Jen" directed by Francois Rotger in Pusan. "The Japanese market was down. It has picked up again now but prices are still lower there."

Berdugo also expects to do business with Koreans and Chinese in Pusan, and possibly Indian buyers. "India is becoming an interesting market with the developing middle class indicated by some 70 million cable TV subscribers," he says. "We never used to sell to India before, but now we sell four or five films a year there. Prices are still low but there's a certain turnover."

U.K. Film Council senior executive for export and development, Sarah McKenzie says traveling to Pusan is all about its status as a developing marketplace. This time last year, the U.K. Film Council brokered a deal with the Korean Film Council for the two countries to cooperate on the distribution of titles in each country. The cozy arrangement means indie British titles get help with South Korean theatrical rollout while the U.K. Film Council in London helps with distribution plans for Korean titles. British movies unspooling in Korea over the last year have included David Mackenzie's "Hallam Foe" and the Joy Division biopic "Control" directed by Anton Corbijn. British audiences are set to benefit from the Council bolstered rollouts of Korean movies, including Chan-Wook Park's "I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK" and "The Chaser" directed by Hong Jin Na.

Says McKenzie: "The co-distribution deal we have makes quite a difference. Korea has great market potential for U.K. titles. Korea is one of the top 10 value markets in the world today."

McKenzie points to estimated figures based on in-house research which indicate that last year the U.K. took about 2% market share of the Korean distribution market, a figure that excludes British movies with U.S. involvement such as the "Harry Potter" franchise or titles in the "James Bond" series. "Put those titles in the mix and that percentage shoots way up," McKenzie says. She also highlights the need for U.K. attendees to think about Korea as a growing business opportunity as other Asian territories such as Japan level out. "There is a hunger for certain genres of British titles out there and we (at the U.K. Film Council) are trying to help the industry in the U.K. identify them."

But not everything is rosy when it comes to attending Pusan and its nascent Asian Film Market. Only in its third year, the market in Pusan is competing with a busy fall schedule with numerous events vying for buyers' and sellers' attention, including the Tokyo International Film Festival's market activity, MIPCOM in France and various European-based film festival events such as the Rome Film Festival all looming. Coupled with the impending American Film Market in November this year and the fact that traveling to Pusan involves at least one airport hop too many, some Europeans still find the Korea event one mart too many.

Hanway Films head of sales Thorsten Schumacher says he is a big fan of Pusan but, due to scheduling conflicts, his company won't be traveling this year. "It takes a whole week to attend, even if you just go for three days because it is not that easy to get to and from," Schumacher says.

With the market activity slowly growing, in line with the hopes for a strengthening in the Korean appetite for foreign fare, Pusan's third year with a market should nonetheless prove busy.

"We don't attend the American Film Market so this is a good chance to see all the Asian buyers one last time before we start over with Rotterdam and Berlin next year," says Virginie Devesa, sales executive of French indie UMedia. The Pusan Promotion Plan, which this year is presenting 30 projects in search of potential coproducers and financiers, is also attracting Europeans, according to Devesa.

UMedia has one film in Pusan's competition section, "Nucingen Haus," from Chilean veteran Raoul Ruiz and starring Elsa Zylberstein. The company picked up two titles from Korean helmer Hong Sang-Soo last year in Pusan, "The Woman on the Beach" and the Berlin competition title "Night and Day."

"With few buyers in Venice, very few in San Sebastian, Pusan is a must-attend market for us," says Laurent Danielou, sales and acquisitions executive at Paris-based producer/distributor Rezo Films, who did good business in Pusan last year with Julie Delpy's "2 Days in Paris." "The Japanese market has dropped off, but Korea is still important," Danielou adds.

Rezo is presenting four films in th Pusan festival: Adrian Sitaru's "Hooked," screening in the Romanian New Wave section, "Welcome Home," from Oscar-winning director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, which has its world premier in Pusan; "Dawn of the World," an Arabic-language French/German coproduction directed by Abbas Fahdel and "Knitting," a relationship drama directed by Yin Lichuan which screened in Cannes sidebar Directors' Fortnight.

In terms of genres, films with a strong festival pedigree and some awards cache tend to attract the most attention in Pusan. High-end European drama and arthouse fare is what sells well in Japan and Korea, although comedies and action pictures can find takers elsewhere in Asia. "Japanese buyers are looking for a certain image of France as cultured, sophisticated and romantic. I'm not sure a film like 'The Class' is the kind of thing they're after," says Berdugo, in reference to Laurent Cantet's gritty high school drama which won the Palme d'Or and will represent France at the Oscars.

Titles with a specific genre also appeal, says MDC's Moschall. Classical music is a strong seller in Asia and MDC expects to do good business with two of its music-themed features: the German-Slovenian co-production "Estrellita" and the documentary "After The Music."

"Actually the biggest problem selling in Asia is a technical one," he says. "In most Asian territories, the standard length for a feature film is 110 minutes. In Europe and America it's 90 minutes. That can cause problems."

Stuart Kemp in London and Scott Roxborough in Cologne contributed to this report.
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