Dealmakers Rejoice as Berlin Business Bounces Back

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'John Wick: Chapter 2' still

As the European Film Market winds down, international buyers are encouraged by the return of bigger, more commercial projects: “People are in a buying mood again.”

Berlin’s back. As the European Film Market enters its final days, dealmakers are largely pleased with the return of bigger projects with promising box-office potential.

The big, near-studio level productions — indie films that don’t look indie — are the kinds of movies that have driven the Berlin market in the past. But those titles have been few and far between lately. There were no obviously commercial film packages on offer at the American Film Market in November and even last year’s Cannes was tepid.

But as they jostled around the chilly German capital, international buyers were mostly upbeat about the titles on offer this year and their box-office potential. Voltage’s Maya Lord, a $60 million actioner from blockbuster director Roland Emmerich was a hot seller, after Emmerich flew in Thursday to pitch the film to global distributors. The project is described as a Dances With Wolves story about a Spanish solider captured by a Mayan tribe whose faith, and cultural assumptions, are put to the test with the arrival of the conquistadors. Constantin reportedly snatched up the project for Germany, following a bidding war, and several other major territories are believed to be in play.

STX International saw brisk sales of its slate of commercial projects, which include the Brian Helgeland crime thriller Finest Kind starring Jake Gyllenhaal; Alicia Vikander starrer The Marsh King’s Daughter; and Killer’s Game, a thriller starring Jason Statham. Lionsgate’s drama Green Book, starring Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, and Keanu Reeves’ John Wick 3, the latest in the hit action franchise, were among the upcoming features making buyers smile.

"There are several strong commercial projects in the market and we're getting a good response from distributors on our new titles including The Marsh King's Daughter and Finest Kind," said John Friedberg, president, international sales, STX International. "I would say things have picked up since AFM. It hasn't bounced back to where we were five years ago, but there's been an uptick."

Even on the specialty side, Berlin has seen steady business. Sony Pictures Classics picked up Rupert Everett’s The Happy Prince for North and Latin America in a deal with CAA. Saban Films grabbed upcoming Ron Perlman/Martin Starr crime thriller The Escape of Prisoner 614 and Well Go USA took North American rights on XYZ Films’s Buybust, an action thriller from Filipino filmmaker Erik Matti (Honor Thy Father).

“People are in a buying mood again and I feel there is even a higher demand on content, of course good content,” said Julia Weber, head of theatrical sales and acquisitions at Germany’s Global Screen, which saw strong sells for its German-language thrillers, including Ozgur Yildirim’s Only God Can Judge Me and Don’t.Get.Out! from director Christian Alvart.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Feb. 19 daily issue at the Berlin Film Festival.