Berlin ready for sales out of the gate

Lineup is heavy on indies, some with Sundance buzz

BERLIN -- Film execs packing their long underwear and woolly hats for what looks to be a cold Berlin International Film Festival are hoping this year's event will see a warming of the global market.

After two years of crisis-induced chills, signs of green shoots were visible at the American Film Market. Strong business at Berlin's European Film Market could send the signal that the independents are back.

The festival seems to have got the message. This year's competition lineup is heavy on indie titles, many of which arrive in Berlin with multiple territories available. Noah Baumbach's comedy "Greenberg," starring Ben Stiller, and Lisa Cholodenko's "The Kids Are All Right" -- being sold by Focus Features and Inferno respectively -- are generating heavy buzz coming out of Sundance, as is Wild Bunch's "The Killer Inside Me" from Michael Winterbottom starring Jessica Alba and Casey Affleck.

Another Sundance star looking to close deals in Berlin is "Howl," the drama directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, which focuses on Allen Ginsberg's eponymous poem and the obscenity trial it brought in its wake. The Match Factory is handling international sales on "Howl," while Cinetic deals with North American rights. Another Cinetic title hoping to capitalize on the heat it produced in Park City is the documentary "Exit Through the Gift Shop" from the famously secretive British graffiti artist Banksy.

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The presale business, written off as dead by many after the credit crunch, showed new signs of life at the AFM, and sellers in Berlin will be testing the waters with several script-only projects.

Two of the hottest come from FilmNation Entertainment: the Hugh Laurie starrer "Oranges," described as an "American Beauty"-style look at U.S. suburbia; and Terrence Malik's new feature, tentatively titled "Project B."

Steward Till's Icon Film International will be looking to win over distributors to Mel Gibson's prison actioner "How I Spent My Summer Vacation," which is shooting in Mexico. Lionsgate, in addition to hawking "Saw 7," will be preselling its remake of the French comedy hit "LOL" with Miley Cyrus and Demi Moore attached.

The two most-talked-about films this Berlin, however, are likely to be Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer" and Martin Scorsese's Leonardo DiCaprio starrer "Shutter Island," both bowing in world premieres in Berlin this week. Most major territories for the films are already sold, so buyers won't be scrambling, but the two high-profile titles are certain to get chilly Berlin off to a very hot start.