Film Markets’ Survival Hangs On Fall Dates

It used to be that November was a month to celebrate the dead and the saints, which, in the eyes of a few, could explain why MIFED was created: one had to be a saint to deal with Milan's Fiera bureaucrats.

Nowadays, however, November is becoming a highly desirable month to hold markets. NATPE needed November, it would be happy with December, but, for now, it has settled for its traditional month: January. The AFM, meanwhile, wants November now more than ever. So, starting in 2004, in addition to its traditional February dates, the AFM will be held November 3-10, thus overlapping with MIFED. Subsequently, the AFM is scheduled to be held only in the fall in 2005 (November 2-9) and 2006 (November 1-8).

Now that the ailing London Screenings has once and for all been put out of its misery, one would think that MIFED reigned supreme in the month of November, but no, its path is increasingly laced with obstacles.

Actually, according to Italian sources, some members of AFMA, the Santa Monica-based association that organizes the American Film Market, helped MIFED to defeat the London Screenings because it would have been too difficult for AFMA to challenge two November film markets simultaneously.

The same Italian sources pointed out that the AFMA had no choice but to move to November. Considering the declining results AFMA had been experiencing in the past few years with its February market, the association had to look for better calendar dates or risk its own survival. Unfortunately, not too many dates were suitable, therefore the decision to go head-to-head with MIFED. Should the AFM lose this battle, it will be hard pressed to continue to exist, thus the live or die fight with MIFED.

However, not all AFMA members seem to be happy with the move and, at the breakfast meeting that AFMA organized at the Cannes Film Festival to announce the shift to a group of film distributors, a few indicated their displeasure. In the past, when talks of the AFM looking to grab the MIFED dates would surface, the Italians where able to gather the support of Spanish, French, German and U.K. distributors and buyers alike, to fend off such aggression. Because MIFED battled the London Screenings, it lost some of the U.K. support, but it is believed that if the Italian entertainment industry rallies solidly behind MIFED, it will, once again, draw the support of other major European companies.

With such support for MIFED, the argument goes, the AFM will be left with only Latin American and Asian buyers, which would clearly spell its defeat.

This year, the 43-year-old MIFED, the world's oldest international multimedia, cinema and television market, will be held November 9-13, as usual at Italy's largest exhibition center: the Fiera Milano.

Starting in 2003 and continuing for the next 15 years, it will be organized and managed by Fiera Milano International (FMI), a joint venture between Fiera Milano Exhibitions and Reed Exhibitions, the multinational corporation that is active in 32 countries with 470 exhibitions, including MIP-TV and MIPCOM, covering 49 sectors of industry. To complicate matters somewhat, Fiera Milano Exhibitions is jointly owned by Fiera Milano Spa and Fondazione Fiera Milano, owner of the Fiera Milano exhibition hall.

In past years attendees complained that though the market was better organized than its London counterpart, it still required a more service-oriented structure and quicker crisis-response. Said Almira Malyshev of New York-based distributor Screen Media Ventures of last year's event: "The buyers list we received [was] absolutely unmanageable - only fax numbers, no e-mail addresses. [It made] our lives very difficult." FMI aims to address these concerns and fortify the festival. This in addition to lowering attendance costs and offering more services.

"I always attend the MIFED market," said Classic Media's Doug Schwalbe, "because it is the premier market between June and December for video and DVD. It could be improved [though] . . . between the reorganization of halls to the handing out of maps. It's not user-friendly." He continued: "I always went to [London Screenings too], but the two of them [MIFED and London Screenings] made no sense at all. It was ridiculous to have [essentially] one market in two cities. When money was gushing out of the ground it didn't really matter. People wanted to sample different cuisine, stay at different hotels - but once the [economic] crunch hit," that changed and people no longer saw the need for both markets.

The mission laid out by FMI will be aided by the recent appointment of MIFED director Carlo Bassi on the Board of Italia Cinema, the agency that promotes the Italian film industry abroad. MIFED is the only international market that boasts a display area and screening rooms all under one roof. The screening areas have been improved: out of the 27 rooms equipped with Dolby Digital sound, five were last year outfitted with the DTS/SRD system and made over with new seating and furniture.

Following the success of MIFED 2002's "Saturday Pre-Screenings," which were showcased a day before the market's official opening, the event will be repeated again this year in order to cram in as many premieres as possible. The "Saturday Pre-Market Screenings" will take place November 8th.

"The concept of MIFED is very valuable," said Schwalbe. "I think complaints about the organization of MIFED are somewhat overblown. It's more a question of the distance people have to fly."