Berlin: Buyers on the Hunt for Non-English Fare Post-'Parasite'

European Film Market
Oliver Most

With Bong Joon Ho’s Oscar winner continuing to do big business around the world, dealmakers in Berlin are heralding a new era of increased diversity: "Audiences have become much more adventurous."

Business at Berlin's European Film Market tends to be a slow burn, but the 2020 EFM got off with a bang as A24 signed the first major deal before the doors of market headquarters the Martin Gropius Bau even opened.

On the eve of Berlin, the indie distributor snatched up Claire Denis’ next movie, the combination thriller/love story The Stars at Noon, for North America in a low seven-figure deal with CAA Media Finance. The project, set in 1984 during the Nicaraguan Revolution, reunites Denis with her High-Life star Robert Pattinson alongside Once Upon a Time in Hollywood breakout Margaret Qualley. Stars at Noon is being shopped internationally by Wild Bunch.

The early deal is a sign that Berlin could build on the record-setting pace set by Sundance this year, which saw a slew of acquisitions both by streaming giants and traditional distributors.

But while Sundance is a finished film market, Berlin's focus has always been on pre-buys, on distributors, like A24 with Stars at Noon, taking a risk based on a script and attached cast. Only a tiny number of high-profile projects in Berlin —including Matteo Garrone's live-action Pinocchio and Johnny Depp-starrer Minamata — are still available for North America. HanWay are handling international sales on both, with CAA Media Finance handling U.S. rights on Minamata.

The variety of new projects being shopped around Potsdamer Platz this year — from STXInternational's Gerard Butler actioner Remote Control to the Olivia Wilde-directed female-focused sports biopic Perfect from FilmNation and CAA, to Farsi-language A Hero from two-time Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi (A Separation), which Memento Films is selling — is a reflection of how diverse the indie business has become of late. Films as different in genre, range and budget as Hustlers, Parasite, Angel Has Fallen, Knives Out and The Lighthouse have delivered at the box office. (Knives Out is from Lionsgate and MRC and was directed and written by Rian Johnson, who also produced alongside Ram Bergman via their T-Street banner. MRC and The Hollywood Reporter share a parent company, Valence Media, which also owns a stake in T-Street.)

"Audiences have become much more adventurous, much more open to riskier films, films that are more auteur and challenging," says Richard Lorber of New York-based distributor Kino Lorber, which has acquired four of the past five Berlin Golden Bear winners for the U.S.

The success of Parasite in particular — which has grossed $200 million and counting worldwide after its historic best picture win at the Oscars — has raised expectations for non-English language titles, a Berlin specialty. In addition to the Farhadi film, a German-language version of anti-war classic All's Quiet on the Western Front, which Rocket Science is selling, and Official Competition, an Argentine drama featuring Spanish stars Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz, from Protagonist Pictures, CAA and Paradigm, are attracting a lot of attention from buyers.

But the old-school business of male-focused action movies hasn't gone away. Dirk Schweizer of Germany's Splendid Films, notes that streaming figures for the "Liam Neeson, Gerard Butler, Sly Stallone, Jason Statham movies" is shooting up. "The revenue isn't yet what it was in the golden days of DVD sales, but it's become a business again."

If there is anything lacking at this year's EFM, it might just be those action titles. STX's Remote Control and Sylvester Stallone vehicle Little America (a dystopian sci-fi actioner) from AGC Studios are two of the rare exceptions.

"The independent marketplace and independent distributors want more action-driven, commercial films that can be wide releases for them, star-driven action thrillers,” says Alex Walton, head of international film sales at Endeavor Content, which kicked off Berlin with a corporate deal, taking a minority stake in British production firm The Ink Factory (Fighting With My Family). "But there is a dearth of that kind of material right now."

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Feb. 20 daily issue at the Berlin Film Festival.