The Berlinale’s European Film Market (EFM) decision to move online due to rising Covid cases in Germany has forced the international industry to tear up its initial plans for the February event. Buyers and sellers are now working out how to navigate a digital EFM at the same time as a reconfigured physical festival aims to take place in the German capital.
EFM Director Dennis Ruh talks to Screen to answer key questions about this year’s online edition.
We were told by companies trying to book stands that the EFM exhibition space was sold out in December 2021. The decision to move the market online must have been a difficult one.
This reflected the great need for the retail industry to meet in person, which is why the decision to move the marketplace online was extremely difficult. Before making this decision, we found the best solutions for exhibitors with the uncertainties of the times. For example, we pushed our stand material order deadlines to the very last minute and found a way with our suppliers to have cancellation deadlines in January. Therefore, no specific cost was created. We have kept the financial risk for exhibitors as low as possible.
How does EFM handle refunds?
For all exhibitors who have contracted on-site exhibit space with us, we will issue a full refund except for the online attendance fee. Our team contacts exhibitors to discuss the reversal.
Will customers get a full refund?
Yes, except for the online participation fee.
Do we offer them a special offer on digital attendance?
yes we offer the early bear [sic] rate for their early engagement.
What are the prices for a virtual stand and a simple presence?
The prices of virtual cabins vary according to the level of services, but the rates are reasonable and are not comparable to physical attendance. The normal price for an Online Market badge is €159 ($182), providing access to the entire market covering virtual booths, online screenings, attendee guide and our conference program, EFM Industry Sessions .
We hear that a lot of sales agents and producers, especially those with films in the lineup, are still considering going to Berlin. Will the EFM provide smaller meeting spaces or networking opportunities?
We are currently exploring what safe deals we can make for sellers and producers with films on the Berlinale program in accordance with the festival’s strict protocol in its revised concept. The strong need to grant access to distributors traveling to Berlin is of course taken into account.
Do you take festival programmers into account in your projects?
We see festival programmers as key players in advancing the careers of festival films. We have therefore introduced this year a new category in the management of rights to online screenings. There will be a shortcut to give access to buyers and festival programmers, which will facilitate the management of rights for rights holders. As the EFM will take place online, this is how we can support their access to screenings.
Regarding the official online market projections for professionals, what will be the schedule? Will all festival films be available for professional viewing online before their official premiere?
We [have] have offered screening slots to all rights holders of the films selected in the different sections of the festival and their reactions are very positive. We are confident that we will be able to present the majority of the films selected by the festival in the form of online market screenings. The first market screening is usually tied to the festival premiere date.
All market screenings will be scheduled according to the established screening plan and will be available for viewing within 120 minutes after the designated start time. All market participants determine their own time zone. The start time of the film will be based on the determined local time, ensuring that users in, for example, Australia, Central Europe or the West Coast of the United States will be able to view specific screenings at the same local time. . This projection format preserves the momentum of a market presentation. For the first time, selected market screenings will be available as a VoD offer after the regular EFM until March 8, 2022, so attendees can catch up after the market.
How many films will be screened on the market?
We have already programmed over 500 films and are still accepting reservations for online screenings. It is still too early to give a definitive figure, but so far the number of films scheduled indicates a satisfactory offer.
Last year, around 12,000 participants logged in every day. Now that you’ve had time to analyze the data in more depth, can you say where it was based and also give an indication of your interest in Asia and the Americas this year?
The largest group of online participants came from Germany last year, followed by the United States and the United Kingdom. For Asia, Japan, South Korea and China participated prominently. From South America, participants from Brazil and Argentina were very numerous. When we look at the accreditation statistics online so far, I don’t predict any big changes.
The EFM dates of February 10-17 mean the market is slightly longer than the main official selection premieres festival schedule, February 10-16. What is the thinking behind this?
The festival will still be held from February 10 to 20. The first presentations will end on the day of the awards ceremony on February 16, but screenings will continue thereafter. Due to the close link between the EFM and the festival, our market screenings are closely linked to the premieres. Keeping the original dates makes sense for the EFM.
Last year’s online EFM ran from Monday to Friday. This year, it will take place over a weekend. Do industry professionals want to work online on weekends?
Last year, the sessions scheduled in the evening recorded above-average “entries”. Based on this, we are confident that the appetite for movies is there even on weekends. Regarding the conference program, we have decided to have open live panels during the week and will opt for more closed sessions with smaller groups on the weekends.
Based on last year’s experiences, what are you and your team tweaking or changing?
Our online offerings have been improved and expanded in response to the feedback we received from our previous edition. For example, we have restructured the management of rights for online screenings and improved user-friendliness, also for exhibitors.
Last year, the EFM hosted 90 separate online sessions spanning keynotes, panel discussions and podcasts. Will the program also be provided this year?
We have revamped our conference program by renaming it “EFM Industry Sessions”. As part of this new concept, we have introduced four program streams: “Producers”, “Distribution”, “Documentary” and “Series”. This should make orientation easier. In terms of topics, we have defined the central themes of ‘Future, Diversity & Inclusion’ and ‘Sustainable Development’, providing an editorial line.
As part of the new ‘EFM Industry Sessions’ concept, we have found a way to align all open discussion formats under one key theme, ‘Shaping Change’. We will offer around 25 open discussion formats and will also add networking formats, one-on-one meetings with experts and podcast sessions, etc. It may be a little less extensive than last year, but there will be an appropriate number of high-quality sessions in total.
Do you plan to hold physical screenings in Melbourne, Sao Paulo, Tokyo and Mexico City like you did last year?
The physical screenings that we have organized in different cities outside Europe have been a success for the films presented. This was a pilot project and one of the lessons we learned was that it would make even more sense to create some kind of market hub in these cities, providing basic commercial infrastructure to support these films . We are going to work on this idea but for this edition, we will skip physical screenings abroad.