The Berlinale’s European Film Market was the last major physical market to take place in 2020 as the world began shutting down because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The virus would force the event online in 2021 and 2022. The EFM’s traditional home of the Gropius Bau looked strangely empty last February, playing host to an exhibition by South African artist Zanele Muholi, as the event unfolded online alongside a scaled-down physical festival.
Its vast atrium and halls are set to be packed with hundreds of stands and thousands of professionals once again this year for EFM’s 2023 edition, running February 16-22.
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Both the Gropius Bau and the market’s other key exhibition space of the Marriott Hotel are already fully booked.
“The good news for us is that we are completely at the same level in terms of accreditations as we were at this time of the year in 2020. This means that we are forecast to reach the same amount of market participants,” EFM director Dennis Ruh.
As of January 23, 519 exhibitors hailing from 59 countries had taken stands, 128 for the first time, and 6,636 individual market participants from 128 countries had registered to attend, 1,143 of them buyers.
A total of 691 films were due to be screened, 524 of them market premieres, for more than 1,000 market screenings, 442 of which will be online. Around 307 titles will be available to screen via VOD after the market.
“It’s still a work in progress and the numbers continue to tick up,” said Ruh.
Asia & North America
Ruh is optimistic that U.S. and Asian professionals will be out in force alongside their European counterparts.
“I went to Busan last year because it was important for me to reach out, especially to the Koreans and the Japanese,” he said.
“Busan was really the first market for them since the beginning of the pandemic and I also went to Tokyo. I think I convinced many of them to return to Berlin. Overall, the presence of Korean and Japanese exhibitors will be bigger than in 2020.”
Chinese attendance will remain relatively low, however, even if there has been a jump in travel out of China following the recent lifting of tough Covid-19 restrictions.
“Normally with the Chinese New Year out of the way, the timing was good. There are a few distributors from China making the trip, but it’s not as many as before. We cannot really compare it to 2020 because they were already in the depth of the pandemic by then,” said Ruh.
North America is set to come roaring back.
“We have 50 exhibiting companies from the U.S. in the market and all the major distributors including A24, Apple TV, Focus Features, Lionsgate, MGM, Neon, Netflix, Paramount Pictures, Searchlight, Showtime, Sony, Sony Classics and Universal,” said Ruh.
He added that the Berlinale Series Market, which falls under the EFM umbrella, will also bring in key U.S. players, such as Universal International Studios President Beatrice Springborne and White Lotus producer David Bernad, who will be speakers in its talks program.
Ruh also highlights an Amazon talk looking at its international strategy with insights from its execs in Germany, Nigeria and the Nordics, as well as an event with top Spanish producer Alex de la Iglesia at which he will unveil details of an upcoming new show.
This year for the first time, Berlinale Series transfers from its original hub in and around the Zoo Palast to the Gropius Bau, the EFM’s new conference venue next door (see below) and the nearby Cinemaxx cinema.
The move reflects the increasing crossover between film and TV, said Ruh.
“It will be in the heart of the EFM. A lot of sales agents now deal with serial content as well as films,” he said. “They’ve extended their portfolios as have the institutions to promote series content and talents. It made sense to bring it to the core of the market.”
Support For Ukraine & Iranian Exiles
Ruh suggests the market’s overall expected attendance figures are “extraordinary” given the fact that attendance from Russia, which usually accounts for a large delegation, and Iran will be down due to “the political situation”.
“We have checked all accreditation requests coming from Russia and Iran. We don’t want to give accreditation to people who are close to the regime or supporting the regime in Russia or Iran,” he said.
Iranian cinema will still have a presence thanks to a special umbrella stand for exiled cinema professionals, run by the Iranian Independent Filmmakers Association.
The EFM is also giving special support to Ukrainian cinema professionals who are finding it increasingly difficult to continue their filmmaking activities as Russia’s year-long invasion of their country drags on.
“We set up a package of different supportive measures which include giving space to the Ukrainian state film agency to run an umbrella stand. We’re not charging for this,” said Ruh.
The market has also given 50 accreditations to Ukrainian professionals and done the extra paperwork to enable male producers to travel on a temporary basis to Berlin. Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 years old (or fighting age) are not currently allowed to leave their country.
The EFM will also host the annual project pitching event of Ukraine’s Odesa International Film Festival, which currently cannot take place in its Black Sea city home, which has suffered sporadic missile strikes and energy blackouts since the start of the invasion
There will also be a conference examining the rising challenges facing the Ukrainian film industry and solutions for helping it to bring productions to fruition.
Fresh Developments, Changes
The market will also welcome a handful of new territory stands including for the Caribbean and South Africa, with other new territory partnerships under negotiation.
In other new developments, the Gropius Mirror Restaurant, which has served EFM delegates since 2007, is closed this year due to building work on its plot. A new restaurant has been built in the car park of the Gropius Bau.
“It will look a little different because it’s not in the mirror tent anymore. We had to adapt. There’s a different floorplan and the tent didn’t really fit. We found another beautiful solution and will have a newly designed EFM restaurant,” said Ruh.
In further changes, the EFM is expanding its activities into the nearby new Documentation Centre For Flight, Expulsion.
The center, which opened in the summer of 2021, will host the EFM’s conference and industry talks program as well as a pioneering initiative called Room Of Stillness, which is part of the EFM’s campaign to support mental health and life balance in the film industry.
Moving the conference events out of the Gropius Bau opens up more space for producer-focused activities, said Ruh.
“We have extended the space we offer for producers and projects. We’ll have an extra room for presentations and a lot more space for meetings on the second floor.”
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