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Berlinale 2012: European Film Market Director Beki Probst Speaks

beki probstIn 2012, the Berlinale had another successful year as the largest audience-oriented international film festival by selling 299,362 tickets. Total professional accreditations came close to 20.000 including 3.800 members of the press. 402 films were featured in its public programs  and 760 were seen at the European Film Market.

The festival continues to expand each year, yet over the last year the strongest growth has been experienced by the European Film Market under the direction of Beki Probst. Appointed in 1988 as the Director of the Film Fair for the Berlinale,

Probst promptly renamed it the European Film Market. Her prior experience included work for the Locarno Film Festival and representation of the Berlinale in Turkey and Greece.  Born in Istanbul, Probst pursued studies in law and journalism.

Her 25 years as director resulted in the  transformation of the EFM into one of the three most important global film markets, with it now considered by many observers to be on par with the American Film Market and Cannes and it ranks as the most important market for independent and art house productions.

In 2012 about 8000 professionals from 100 countries were accredited at the market, a 15 % increase over 2011 in spite of the economic crisis.

1,739 buyers reviewed the latest productions amounting to 760 films of which 600 were market premieres and 31 in the 3D format. 400 exhibitors represented 408 companies from 55 countries.  

Among noteworthy features of the market were the expanded EFM market venues at the Marriott, the EFM Industry Debates, panels on cross media distribution attracting over 1,000 participants, the Berlinale co-production market, and the allied world cinema fund.

Seminars run with the European Documentary Network as well as a new special lounge for American independents set up in collaboration with Sundance and IFP placed additional emphasis on documentaries.

CM: It seems that the EFM is frequently identified as the single most successful component of the Berlinale. What accounts for that achievement? 

Beki Probst, EFM Director: There are quite a few successful programs and initiatives at the Berlinale, among them the Berlinale Talent Campus, the World Cinema Fund or the Berlinale Co-Production Market. What is special at the European Film Market is the exceptional growth following the move to the Martin-Gropius-Bau in 2006. The Market established itself almost at once as one of the top three international film markets in the world. And it kept growing steadily since then, and has become a must-attend event for the industry. We aim to keep it that way…

CM: How do you assess the impact of new production technologies such as 3D and internet distribution platforms on your market business? 

BP: New technologies and trends in digital distribution are still hot topics in the industry. While the number of 3D films at the EFM was stable or even slightly up (from 29 films in 2011 to 31 in 2012), we had to adapt quickly to the big changeover from 35mm to digital formats. This year, around 70% of the submitted films were digital.

As far as it concerns the quality of the film itself, it’s still the same formula – a bad film won’t sell well at the Market, whether it’s 3D or not. 

CM: At one point you suggested that too many films are produced. Is there a limit to how many films can be absorbed by the European Film Market and how would you curtail submission if that is required?

BP: There are certainly limits to the number of films being screened at the Market. We don’t aim to rent more and more facilities scattered throughout Berlin, in order to offer more and more screening slots. With more than 1.000 screenings during 9 days, the schedules are pretty tight already.

Most companies want to have their films screened at the first weekend. But as the day has only 24 hours for buyers, too, there is a limit to what they are able to watch during these days and between plenty of meetings in addition…There are certain criteria and regulations for the films we screen at the EFM – first and foremost, if the entered film is part of the official festival programme and/or a market premiere.

CM: Various EFM initiatives seem to indicate a greater emphasis on documentaries. Will that trend to continue during the next years?

BP: We have established the documentary networking platform Meet the Docs in 2009. As it was received well right from the beginning, we developed this initiative further by extending the meeting place and offering more information sessions. It is going well in view of the rising number of documentaries being made and more and more documentary people like producers and filmmakers attending the Market. 

CM: Compared to the 2011 EFM do you detect in the 2012 EFM important differences?

BP: Despite all talk of an economic crisis, we were sold out very quickly this year. Both our locations – the Martin-Gropius-Bau and the Marriott - were fully booked in December. Another difference in 2012 was that some companies have left the national umbrellas and set up with their own stand, and more Asian companies were participating.

However, the big leap compared to 2011 was the changeover from 35mm to digital screening formats – as mentioned above. We strongly focus on keeping up to date and respond swiftly to new developments in technology to accommodate our client’s demands. We invested especially in cinema equipment this year, and were able to provide a total of 39 state-of-the-art cinemas, 31 of them digitalized.

CM: Since you assumed direction of the EFM 23 years ago, what do you consider the most significant changes you introduced?

BP: Move to the Martin-Gropius-Bau

CM: And what was the single biggest problem you encountered?

BP: I think it’s hard to define one single biggest problem over a period of more than two decades. Of course, like in any other job there were quite a few challenges and surprises to manage and especially technical developments to adapt to. And there are global financial crises, which affect the industry and you need to see how it affects the Market, too.

One of the biggest changes and challenges of the last ten years was certainly the move from the Debis Atrium to the Martin-Gropius-Bau in 2006. It was not only about setting-up a new infrastructure in an art museum, but to organize a market which doubled from one year to the next. A very exciting endeavour

CM: What sets the EFM apart from the American Film Market and the Cannes market?

BP: Unlike most other film markets, the EFM operates in close proximity - both spatially and in terms of co-operation - to the Festival. It’s a symbiotic relationship. This also includes the Berlinale audience, acknowledged as one of the Festival’s greatest features.

Every year it seems like the whole city turns out to see the films on offer providing the filmmakers with an immediate and popular voice in the reception of their work. This reflects back on the Market as well. To have a festival with this kind of public is a very important part of Berlin.

The sellers are very interested in attending public screenings where they get the reaction from a real audience. Furthermore, the EFM is the year’s first trade and meeting platform for the international film industry, where trends of the upcoming film year and business is reflected.

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