By Leah Hochbaum

With MIFED dead and buried, the 27th annual American Film Market (AFM), held November 1-8 in Santa Monica, CA, was supposed to have been the place for the independents to do business. But occurring too soon after the recent (and strong) MIPCOM in Cannes, France and the new RomeFilmFest in Italy, questions soon surfaced: Has the AFM made the right choice switching from its traditional February date to the current one? And, more importantly, is the AFM really necessary?

Yes, said Classic Media’s Doug Schwalbe, who pointed out that most markets seem to favor big-ticket studio offerings over less well-known independently produced fare. But “AFM is a better moment for indies,” he said. Classic saw a “huge amount of interest in Casper Scare School,” a new movie about the friendly ghost’s decision to enroll in an institution of higher learning. While he couldn’t yet reveal what deals had been made (details are still being finalized and contracts have yet to be signed), he did disclose: “A really good geographical cross-section of buyers comes to AFM. In a single day, you can have meetings with buyers from Australia to Argentina to Japan to Turkey to France.”

Pete Kalhan, FremantleMedia Enterprises’ (FME) senior vice president, Home Entertainment and Archive Sales, concurred with Schwalbe that the market is essential, but feels that it might benefit from being shortened. “Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were very busy. But on Saturday, four of my meetings didn’t show. And on Sunday, it was the same thing. It seems to be a trend that people don’t want to work on the weekend,” said Kalhan. “I question whether this is really an eight-day market. It’s more like three or four days.”

Regardless, Kalhan was pleased with the deals that got done. “We’ve had lots of interest in Live From Abbey Road,” he said, referring to FME’s new musical performance show that features the likes of The Who, Paul Simon, The Killers, Snow Patrol and many more. FME also garnered attention for feature-length documentary 638 Ways to Kill Castro, as well as a prequel to Jane Eyre. The company also sold home video rights to South Africa for classic British comedy series Benny Hill.

“This is primarily a film market,” said Kalhan, “but we’re here for home entertainment.”

One company that was at the AFM to sell movies, however, was Beyond Films. But even general manager Hilary Davis admitted: “it would be unlikely [that Beyond would] launch a film at AFM because it’s a market, not a festival.” She also pointed to the recent RomeFilmFest (“wonderful, fantastic location”) as possibly putting the kibosh on future Beyond Films visits to AFM. “It’s very expensive for us to come to AFM,” she said, noting that the Australian company’s film division is based in London. “It’ll be easy to get to Rome. We as Europeans will tend to favor it over AFM.”

Despite all the moans and groans about this year’s market, some companies were happy with the way things went. “We had a really good response to the two new films we had here,” said Gene George, president of Regent referring to Aurora Borealis, which stars Donald Sutherland and Juliette Lewis and Dawson’s Creek alum Joshua Jackson, and Freshman Orientation, a comedy in the vein of American Pie.

George concurred that the bulk of deals were made in the first few days of the AFM, but unlike FME’s Kalhan, he was happy to take it easy as the market wound down. “Everything was spread out. We weren’t completely backed up for once. It was nice.”

A more detailed report of the AFM condition and state of affairs will be published in VideoAge’s November/December Asia TV Forum Issue.