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AFM 2006 Gets Going

Although the main business here is film, the 27th American Film Market (AFM) managed to produce plenty of records Wednesday.
435 companies from 36 countries are exhibiting this year, with 592 films screening: that’s up from 534 titles last year. All in all, the number of films screening has increased by 50 per cent over the past three years. The figures represent all-time highs for the annual film market, which runs 1 – 8th November 2006.
Part of the growth must be attributed to the demise of the AFM’s former rival, MIFED, which took place each fall in Italy. After, the AFM switched its dates from February to November a couple of years back, the Milan-based event died off, and has all but been forgotten.
“As you are aware, we are opening the largest AFM in our history,” said Jean M. Prewitt, president and ceo of AFM organizers, the Independent Film & Television Alliance. “This reflects some of the trends we have seen in recent years, such as an overall increase in sales of independent product; our membership expansion; and participation from territories not previously involved in import/export.”
Prewitt said there was notably more interest this year from governments and NGO’s in participating in the film industry. The AFM will host a Location Expo conference Saturday about this subject.
Technology is also high on the agenda this year, with Prewitt describing 2006 as “the year of wireless.”
“This year, our main issue for members has been understanding wireless rights,” she said. “Definition is a big problem when someone comes in and asks for these rights.”
At the press conference Wednesday, AFM managing director Jonathan Wolf said of the impact of such new technological platforms on film production: “This is going to create new art forms. Some producers will adapt to this, but there will also be new players. There will be art forms that we haven’t yet envisaged. But entertainment is an elastic business. Old forms of entertainment will remain, as new ones come forward.”
Wolf described AFM 2006 as being “up, up, up.” The AFM had expanded into more space at a second hotel this year, Le Merigot, which is next door to the main venue the Loews. Gym members at the Loews are even doing without their exercise studio, which has been being given over for the first time. The Canadians are currently residing there.
Wolf chose to recap the recent history of the entertainment business in explaining the expansion of the AFM.
“Back in the ‘70s, most territories had three or four television channels and filmed entertainment didn’t exist,” he said. “Technology and de-regulation has seen filmed entertainment grow in territories where it had not existed before.”
One striking example has been Asia, according to Wolf. Only eight Asian companies attended the AFM in 2001, compared to 61 this year.
Italy is also providing some eye-popping statistics, with buyers up 20 per cent, this year.
Wolf also talked up the AFM’s ongoing collaboration with the AFI film festival in Los Angeles, which now takes place at the same time as the AFM.
“It’s about increasing exposure for arthouse films,” he said. “We want to help specialty films.”
Rounding up the press conference, IFTA chairman, Michael Ryan, one of the founding members of the AFMA, which preceded IFTA, focused on the globalization of the business and the growing clout of foreign territories.
“25 years ago, there was a strange rule, which said only English language films could be shown,” he said. “We discussed opening it up. One person, who shall remain nameless, said, ‘why on earth would we want to show strange Greek films here?’ If you look at the 50 per cent increase in film screenings and ask where it’s coming from, it’s from international territories,” he said.
As part of this trend, the AFM is this year hosting a delegation from the Chinese industry, the Indian National Film Corporation and holding talks on U.S.-Mexican bilateral productions.
“What we do is gather in all these strange companies with strange pictures from strange territories. Let’s celebrate the internationalization of the business,” added Ryan.

By Liza Foreman

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