Obama win boosts confidence at AFM

'Sense of buoyancy' among attendees on Wednesday

Barack Obama's decisive victory in the race to the White House gave the first day of the American Film Market a slightly more optimistic sheen than many expected going into a market staged amid a global financial crisis.

IFTA president and CEO Jean Prewitt said in Wednesday's opening-day news conference that she was confident the president-elect and his administration will be sympathetic to the needs of her membership.

"Today is an historic day," Prewitt said. "(Obama) is clearly in favor of broad diversity in the media." She said it was up to IFTA and her membership to keep a "vibrant presence" on Washington's media-lawmaking agenda.

Said indie distributor Roadside Attractions co-president Howard Cohen: "I don't know how or whether it affects the entertainment business, except that we imagine that life in America will improve and hopefully all boats will rise."

For the international players, Obama's victory seemed to be a popular outcome.

Entertainment attorney Patricia Mayer of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, who hosts a series of home-cooked dinner parties every year for her international mix of clients at AFM, said the result was a boost.

"If you can trust the economy and trust the business and culture of a place, then it's easier to do business with a place," she said. "Whether it's financing or distribution, you feel that people who are positive about a culture are (then) more positive about us as a filmmaking culture and as an economy. I woke up smiling today, and that makes people want to do business."

Courtney Williams, co-head of new U.S. film and TV sales banner ScreenOpus, is "optimistic" about the pending Obama administration.

"Everybody has a sense of buoyancy, and it's twofold: It's been a time-consuming campaign that has concluded with a very uncertain economic climate facing us all," Williams said. "You have somebody who is young and entrepreneurial and a lawyer, and he knows what makes business tick, and this is an opportunity for more than just the old-boy business."

Williams said he believes that the coming period will be good for business in general, with a "wash out" of the business as companies that might be "overweight" realign their business to suit the new economy.

The advantage of coming to AFM for the first time as a new company, Williams said, is that his operation is already streamlined to the leaner and meaner economy -- a reflection of the times.

ScreenOpus, a joint venture of Severance Pictures in the U.S.- and Paris-based MK2, is headed by Williams, a former MGM executive, and Nicolas Bonard, previously with MTV International.

U.K.-based sales and finance house Hanway Films CEO Tim Haslam thinks Obama's rise simply brings "greater confidence" to the market.

But Peter Naish, sales chief at newly launched sales banner Exclusive Film Distribution, said he is not seeing an immediate impact yet.

"The bigger issues are around the economic climate in buyers' home territories. Everyone is looking for someone to come in and do things differently, and I think the whole world is hopeful (Obama) will make changes that will help all our economies," Naish said.

For Asian delegates, the election brought everything from shrugs to sighs of relief.

"There is a very close relationship between our two countries," said Kim Yun-Jeong, senior manager at Korean-based FineCut. "We were hoping to have a president who cares about other countries, and, as a minority, is open to other peoples."

Michelle Son, managing director at Seoul-based M-Line, said she hoped the choice will bode well for business between the countries.

"Everyone wanted some big change and (hopes) that the economic situation improves," she said. "The dollar is really strong against the Korean dollar, which is great for sales, but not for acquisitions. We want a stable situation that could help with our co-productions. Once there is a more stable situation between Asia and the U.S., this will be a great help."

Added Mari Nakamura of Japan-based Asmik Ace: "It was great to see how excited the (American) people were. We are very happy for them."

Leslie Simmons, Gregg Goldstein and Liza Foreman contributed to this report.
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