Berlin: Action, Not Art House, Driving Sales as Market Wraps

European Film Market
Oliver Most

There was little sign of a 'Parasite' bounce for foreign-language titles, with star-driven genre fare dominating business.

Is EFM becoming the new AFM?

Berlin's European Film Market, which wraps up Friday, has always styled itself as an upmarket version of the schlockier American Film Market, the L.A.-based event in November that still wears its straight-to-video origins proudly. Classy, not trashy, could be the EFM motto. Art house movies, high-end costume dramas and "award films" are the market's stock-in-trade.

The 2020 EFM, coming right after the huge Oscar and box office success of Bong Joon Ho's Parasite, looked primed to be a banner year. Indeed, the first big deal, on the eve of Berlin, was A24 buying North American rights to The Stars at Noon, the new feature from French auteur Claire Denis, starring Robert Pattinson and Margaret Qualley, from Wild Bunch.

But as Berlin kicked off, there were few other big deals for art house movies. Neon bought two documentaries, taking North American rights to festival favorite Gunda from Russian director Viktor Kossakovsky and worldwide rights on Benjamin Ree's Sundance winner The Painter and the Thief.

IFC picked up the Liam Neeson comedy Made in Italy from actor-turned-director James D'Arcy. And boutique distributor Greenwich Entertainment acquired U.S. rights on Caroline Link's German-language period drama When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit from Beta Cinema. And as the market neared its end, FilmNation was reportedly close to closing a sale on Olivia Wilde's Perfect, a biopic on 1990s American gymnast Kerri Strug.

Set against those were a slew of global sales for genre movies, many of them the sort of action fare that would not look out of place on an AFM one-sheet in the Loews Hotel.

AGC International closed most of the world on Little America, a dystopian sci-fi action thriller starring Rambo V: Last Blood's Sylvester Stallone. Film Mode Entertainment signed deals across Europe and Asia for Anti-Life, a dystopian sci-fi action thriller starring Bruce Willis. STXinternational did a major deal with new German studio Leonine for Gerard Butler conspiracy action thriller Remote Control. And its distribution arm STXfilms closed what looks like the biggest prebuys of the market, taking rights in North American, Latin American and China for Gunpowder Milkshake, an action thriller about female assassins, featuring Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Michelle Yeoh and Angela Bassett in its star-packed cast, from StudioCanal and UTA Independent Film Group.

“It's a slightly worrying trend to see that audiences, and thus buyers, are tending to focus more on the mainstream blockbuster titles [instead of] championing world cinema,” Matthijs Wouter Knol, director of the European Film Market, told The Hollywood Reporter. After the success of Parasite, Knol said, many were expecting a bump in sales for art house titles in Berlin. “But I think after a couple of days, reality has kicked in and that these kinds of films are still struggling.”

Numerous buyers attributed the success of star-driven action fare to the growing international streaming market where, alongside the global platforms of Netflix, Amazon Prime and company, local and regional streamers are stepping up to buy titles and, replicating the direct-to-video market, focusing on easy-to-pigeonhole films with easy-to-recognize faces on the poster.

"We saw a sharp decline in revenue for those kind of movies when home entertainment sales basically collapsed a few years back," noted one European buyer. "But now, the streamers are moving into the space and those same movies are again shooting up the charts."