Turkey, Ukraine lead latest wave to AFM

More upstart countries have presence at festivals, markets

As Turkey's Golden Orange Film Festival came to a close last month, Abdurrahman Celik, the Cultural Ministry's cinema director, stood inside a historic amphitheater and made an announcement. Alongside 35 Turkish film weeks, and more than 4,000 international screenings planned for the coming year, Turkey would be at the AFM.

Earlier that month, in a tiny auditorium in the Cannes' Palais, top media representatives from the former Soviet Union made it known that Ukraine would be doing the same.

Whether in the halls of MIPCOM or at far-flung film festivals, whispers of the AFM could be heard in some of the furthest corners -- and most unusual settings -- on Earth.

The growing trend of upstart countries making their presence felt on the festival/market circuit could prove a welcome break in Santa Monica this year, with the number of U.S. exhibitors down by 7% this year. (There are 203 U.S. stands compared to 218 last year.)

"There is ongoing deregulation in television in many markets and a maturing of talent from television to film outside of the U.S., leading to growth in some of these countries," AFM managing director Jonathan Wolf said in a recent interview.

"In many of these places, film is still seen as a cultural commodity and receives funding, so what you have coming to the AFM each year are more non-English-language companies surpassing the U.S.," he added.

Riding their country's growth spurt in the Golden Orange Film Festival/Turkish suite will be a team lead by Celik, talking up the local media business, meeting with everyone from the studios down and promoting Turkey as a filming location.

"Beginning with the AFM, the Golden Orange is gearing up to make a bigger mark with extensive participation in the market-and-festival circuit," explained Denis Ziya Temeltas, who runs the Eurasia Production Platform at the Golden Orange festival, which is blazing a global trail on behalf of the local film industry.

"We are hoping that the international community will be drawn to do business in Antalya in view of the growth of our film market, production platform, and festival," he added.

Ukraine, which held its first-ever pavilion at the Marche du Film at Cannes this year and a splashy Ukraine D'Azur party at MIPCOM, is sending an increased number of buyers.

This includes one of the country's leading media companies, Film.ua, which launched a distribution arm last year and is attending the AFM for the second time.

"Although there are some difficulties right now with theatrical releases in Ukraine, the film market is developing rapidly," Film.ua acquisitions manager Yana Hyrshanina said, adding that the company is looking for feature films, all-rights deals and TV rights for Ukraine. "There are still three to four theatrical releases a week," she said.

Other exhibitors from the former Eastern Bloc, include Russia and Hungary, which have three stands each.

Another continent that has seen a rapid expansion at the market is Asia, which, per Wolf, has gone from eight exhibition companies just seven years ago to about 50 now.

Japan is up from 16 stands last year to 19; Hong Kong has added one suite to make nine; and Korea remains on par with last year at nine booths. Taiwan has one stand.

"As American films dominate the Taiwanese market, the AFM serves as the most important place for us to acquire American titles," said Isabelle Ho of Taiwan-based CMC Entertainment. Ho explained that CMC sales representatives have attended the AFM three times to sell 2005's "Silk," "Blood Brothers" in 2006 and "Forever Enthralled" this year.

International umbrella organizations also have continued to expand. Those participating include China Film Promotion International; German Films Service + Marketing; the Italian Film Commission; the KOTRA -- Korea Trade Center; the New Zealand Film Commission; and the Canadian Film Commissions & Agencies, which hosts a stand for film commissions and Canadian producers.

"We used to have five or six of these organizations, now there are 10 or 12," Wolf said. "It depends on the economics of a country. These organizations tend to target Cannes as it serves a dual purpose of a film festival and market. The AFM serves only one."

This year's AFM is looking at an overall drop in exhibitors -- from 433 last year to 409 this year -- with Spain, Germany and China among territories with less exhibitors here than in 2007.

"It is hard to know exactly what the impact will be from anyone until they get here," Wolf said. "Sometimes countries come to spend up surplus government funding."