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INTERVIEW-Film industry seen bouncing back from crisis shock

Published 01/23/2009, 09:49 AM
Updated 01/23/2009, 09:56 AM

By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN, Jan 23 (Reuters) - The initial shock of the global economic crisis that hit the film industry appears to be slowly wearing off and attendance at next month's European Film Market should break all records, EFM director Beki Probst told Reuters.

As the first film bazaar of the year and one of the world's top three markets for buyers and sellers alongside November's American Film Market and May's market at Cannes, the EFM is an important bellwether of the international industry's health.

Probst said pent-up demand by film buyers from around the world -- looking to fill their cinema screens and TV broadcasts -- and a longing for "feel-good stories" to distract people from their woes were combining to make the 2009 EFM bigger than ever.

"In times of trouble, cinema is the best distraction you can get," Probst said in an interview ahead of the Feb. 5-12 EFM which runs alongside the Berlin Film Festival (Feb. 5-15), one of Europe's top three festivals after Cannes and Venice.

"Where else can you spend two hours getting into a completely different atmosphere and forgetting your problems or the world around you -- for about 10 euros?" asked Probst, who said this year will have a record 1,448 buyers from 60 nations.

Box office figures held up well in 2008 and even rose in some markets, such as Germany, although financing has become more difficult for filmmakers -- a problem that is not expected to go away soon.

"FEEL-GOOD FILMS"

Probst said the world economic crisis would likely mean "feel-good" films do well at the European Film Market this year while buyers from distributors and TV networks around the world will be shying away from films full of war, violence or gloom.

"People aren't going to pay to go to the cinema for what they can see every day on the TV news," she said. "The feel-good movies are in. I saw a really depressing film the other day. It was well done but you come out after and say 'I need a drink'.

Probst, who has headed the EFM for 20 years, reckons $100 to $150 million worth of film deals are completed during the EFM.

She said she was at first worried the global financial crisis would hit the EFM hard. Its main rival, November's AFM in Santa Monica, California, saw a six-percent drop in attendance.

"I was a bit nervous when financial crisis started," Probst said, pointing to AFM's struggles due to the fall-out of the crisis that led to jobs losses.

"There was a lot of gloom at the AFM," she added. "The big problem is there is no cash around and the banks became stingy with lending. How can you do business like that?"

"But now I feel relaxed because the numbers are good, the films are here and the people are coming," Probst said.

The financial crisis will nevertheless not be far away. The EFM added three industry panel discussions, including one on "How to finance films in the credit crunch?" and "Distribution revolution: new business models in a global crisis." (Editing by Katie Nguyen)

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