By Dom Serafini
Like clockwork, the American Film Market (AFM) comes around every fall, and with it, a set of recurring questions for its organizers from the press, posed by AFM exhibitors and buyers alike. Always up for the challenge, AFM managing director, Jonathan Wolf, is prompt with answers that, like Chinese food, may satisfy for the time being, but leave the industry hungry for more as soon as the AFM is over. The AFM is organized by the Los Angeles-based Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA) and is taking place this year from Nov. 4-11 in Santa Monica, California. Wolf is also executive vice president of the IFTA.
VideoAge International: Jonathan, it looks like the fall is getting more and more crowded with new film festivals and markets. We’ve counted 11 from September to November. The strongest seems to be TIFF. What is your assessment?
Jonathan Wolf: Dom, according to FilmFestivals.com, there are over 1,000 film festivals worldwide in the fall and more than 100 of them routinely host world premieres. Many in our industry forget that most film festivals are cultural events for their communities. They celebrate the art of film and the cinema experience. So what is my assessment? Let the celebrations continue in every corner of the world!
VAI: Does it make sense to you to have two countries (Italy and Canada) competing with each other and each country competing internally with two film festivals/markets apiece?
JW: As I said above, film festivals are cultural events for their communities. An outsider (me!) should not comment on what is right for someone else’s community. I was in Montreal this year during the festival. The community truly embraces and enjoys their festival and I’m sure it’s the same in Rome, Toronto and Venice. Don’t look for a fight. This is not a competition, it’s a global celebration.
VAI: It seems that Rome is looking to claim the MIFED mantle. Do you think it will succeed?
JW: I can’t answer hypothetical questions. What I can tell you is that we have an excellent relationship with the festival’s Business Street. We coordinate the shipment of prints from Rome to Santa Monica and give special considerations to films that are screening there. We do not compete, we cooperate.
VAI: Of the many fall film/TV events, in which does the IFTA take an active role and why (outside the AFM)?
JW: At MIPCOM, we operate an umbrella stand for some of our members because the costs are so high. Other than the AFM, that’s the only fall event attended by the majority of IFTA’s members.
VAI: The U.S. Cable industry bundled 11 separate organizations (and their trade shows) to come up with one major event (Cable Connections). Could the film/TV content industry make a similar move?
JW: No, and my answer has nothing to do with politics, logistics or economics. Choosing the market or festival to announce and sell a new film is a very strategic decision. A “one-size-fits-all” event would not satisfy the needs of the industry.
VAI: The AFM comes towards the end of the budget cycle and after most trade shows, i.e., when buyers have run out of money. How can buyers be persuaded not to make any buying decisions before they’ve seen what the AFM has to offer?
JW: Dom, you have been talking to buyers too much. Film and television markets have flourished in the fall for decades and they continue to flourish. Buyers always have reasons why they won’t pay asking prices. In the fall, the answer is “no budget.” In the winter, it’s “I don’t want to buy too soon and miss something good later.” This is just the art of negotiating.
VAI: What is the film production trend out there? How many finished films will be reaching the international market in 2009 vs. 2008?
JW: We track global production at TheFilmCatalogue.com. In 2008, 985 independent feature films were completed and brought to market. As of 14 September 2009, 581 are reported as completed and 190 more are in production or post and will be finished by the end of the year. We estimate an additional 120 films have not been reported yet but will be completed by the end of the year. That will put the total at approximately 891, or 10 percent below 2008.