Euros busy as Asian Film Market closes

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BUSAN, South Korea -- For the past few days, Asian Film Market exhibitors have bemoaned the dwindling numbers of exhibitors, with some questioning their future plans for participation. However, there was a positive glow on the market's final day Monday as European distributors locked down a bevy of deals.

On the final day of the four-day market, Germany's Bavaria Film International sold all rights for the 2005 documentary "Into Great Silence" to Korea's Jin Jin Pictures; London-based Celsius Entertainment signed a deal with Korea's Mirovision for the Boris Damast–helmed biopic "Vivaldi"; and first-time AFM exhibitor M-appeal has sold Polish director Andrzej Jakimowski's award-winning "Trick" to Korea's Coral Pictures.

"We're very happy about the market," M-appeal rep Maren Kroymann said. "We're positively surprised by the openness of it. From our position in Europe, it looked like a closed market -- Korean exhibitors selling to Asian buyers -- but not at all. We're also able to talk to a lot of Asian producers and distributors here and begin to build a relationship."

Indeed, European exhibitors have a bigger presence at the market. European Film Promotion, which supported European films in sales and festival entries, has brought Euro filmmakers to Pusan for the third year running. This year there are about 40% more European film entries in the festival than last year.

Selling into the market wasn't quite as easy. Having too few distributors for independent films and too few art house cinemas creates a glut that stymies demand, said Michael Raeburn of France's GH Films.

The dearth of films at the market from outside of Asia might be one of the reasons for the success of European distributors, but it also is symptomatic of the Korean film industry, suggested Jonathan H. Kim, CEO and president of Dyne Film in Korea.

"For now, Korean or Asian films don't have a big market; Korean films are pretty much dead now," he said. "The importers are getting aggressive because local products aren't doing well. The importers are getting playing time, so lots of products that wouldn't have been imported are now showing here."

For Korean and Japanese exhibitors and buyers, the picture hasn't been as rosy. "Sellers and buyers are going home empty-handed, it's very sad," said Haruko Watanabe of Gaga Communications' international marketing department and contents marketing division.

"I don't know if I'll come back again next year," he added.

However, Asian Film Market deputy director Jae Jeon begged to differ. "I don't think that this year's market is slower compared to last year," he said. "Some exhibitors feel frustrated because they don't sell. On the other hand, some feel very satisfied with the interest generated, for example (Korea's) Mirovision."

Still, Jeon was looking for ways to expand growth for the market.
"I have a plan to increase the number of buyers over the next two or three years to more than 500, from 290 that came this year," he said, declining to offer further details.

For next year, "I'd like to keep the same format as this year in regards to hotel venues, but there can be unexpected changes," Jeon said. "I think we will add a new multiplex next year to our venue map near the Lotte cinemas. In regards to changes to how we run the market, I first have to look around at some other markets like Hong Kong."

He added: "I need to make a new strategy map for 2009. I'm going to Tokyo next shortly after this festival. Comparing and learning, we can see what works best. I am also planning to organize a big meeting with Korea's important industry people in December to discuss Asian Film Market's future."

Jeon also discussed Dooraeraum, designed as a permanent home for the Pusan International Film Festival; its budget is about $135 million.

"It will be completed in 2011. It will have five screens and one big hall with a capacity for 900 persons. At that time, the market will be situated there neighboring some hotels," he said.

This year's market saw more than 4,500 participants, including those for the Busan International Film Commission and Industry Showcase.

Nigel D'Sa contributed to this report.
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