A funny thing happened on the way to the European Film Market. While many of the international execs I’d spoken to in the past few weeks were lamenting what was shaping up to be a “soft” Berlin, a barrage of announcements, pick-ups and attachments in the last couple of days has given the event some unexpected vigor. A strong Cannes last May gave way to a healthy AFM in November, but leading up to Berlin, there was more than a bit of a mystery surrounding the EFM — and that goes for sellers and buyers. (Sundance tends to escape comparison here as the majority does not consider it a truly international market.) One major European sales chief told me “It’s never been such an unknown,” while a distribution exec at a different European powerhouse said, “It’s the first time I’ve seen such a soft market. There are some under-the-radar projects, but it’s not always the best season to launch.” Still, this person added, “Buyers are somewhat hungry and curious to see what’s out there.”

The ‘what’s out there’ question was slowly answered this year. New projects took their time to announce with scripts reaching buyers later than usual. A normally enthusiastic buyer I know at a major Euro indie was downtrodden ahead of last weekend, telling me, “There’s nothing that interests us. We’re trying to figure out what we could buy.” That same person today allows, “There’s more volume and there was a spike in things we received over the weekend.”

Sierra/Affinity CEO Nick Meyer feels, “Buyers are looking for product…you see the appetite is there if you have the movies that are right.” Right, says Meyer, means being ready. “The hardest thing in this business is the evolution of a film’s lifespan. It doesn’t always marry with the timing of the market so if your movies are ready and you focus on them doesn’t matter if you’re in Berlin, Cannes or Toronto.” Speaking of Cannes, some sales folk feel Berlin is really just a kick-off point for that mother of all markets. A seller with hot titles tells me, “We come with some films presold but everything we do is a launch for Cannes.” K5’s Carl Clifton adds that Berlin “can be a tee-up for Cannes,” but also says, “We’re expecting solid business. Buyers are buying.” From the UK, Clare Binns of Picturehouse, which teamed with Revolver to acquire Sundance pics The Imposter and Liberal Arts, is bullish after that festival where she “only left the cinema twice.” While she allows that’s not always the case in Berlin, she says “it looks to me like a fairly decent year.”

Projects that erupted in a burst in the last few days include Sierra/Affinity’s Heat remake with Jason Statham, directed by Brian De Palma from a William Goldman script; FilmNation’s earthquake thriller Aftershock, the latest ‘Eli Roth Presents’ film that CAA has for domestic; Sierra/Affinity’s WER from The Devil Inside helmer William Brent Bell; Robert Rodriguez’ Machete Kills from AR Films US; FilmNation’s A Most Wanted Man from Anton Corbijn with Philip Seymour Hoffman; Voltage’s untitled comedy that’ll mark the directing debut of Joseph Gordon-Levitt; Terrence Malick’s Knight Of The Cups and Lawless from FilmNation which both just added Natalie Portman (CAA has domestic); IM Global’s Happytime Murders with Katherine Heigl; K5’s Very Good Girls with Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Olsen and Anton Yelchin; EuropaCorp’s Intersection with the hot Frank Grillo; John Carney romance Can A Song Save Your Life? with Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo from Exclusive and 2 Guns and Rule #1, the former with Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington, the latter with Reese Witherspoon and both being sold by Foresight Unlimited.

Buys already announced ahead of today’s start include Cohen Media Group’s US deal for opening night film Farewell, My Queen from Elle Driver and Studiocanal UK’s pick-up of Protagonist’s The Double starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska. Leaning slightly more Euro with buzz are Trust Nordisk’s Tobias Lindholm-directed A Hijacking and Susanne Bier’s All You Need Is Love. Wild Bunch earlier announced titles that will most likely be seen in official selections in Cannes including Cristian Mungiu’s first feature since 4 months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days, stage director Rufus Norris’ feature debut Broken with Tim Roth and Argentine director Pablo Trapero’s White Elephant. The Wild Bunch team will also screen a promo from the Elijah Wood-starring serial killer pic Maniac from Artist producer Thomas Langmann.

As for the competition films, there’s always a bit less hype at Berlin than there is in, say, Cannes. Comments on the selection range from “it’s not broad enough” to “it’s a little out of step with reality” to “The market is intelligently done but all (festival chief) Dieter Kosslick cares about is organizing a festival for his sponsors. Sales agents can’t talk to him.” That last comment is from Wild Bunch’s Vincent Maraval who notoriously stopped submitting films to the festival for consideration a handful of years back when he became fed up with Kosslick’s seeming indifference. (Wild Bunch has two films in selection this year, but Maraval says that’s because he will defer to producers when they want to present their films).

It’s worth noting that awards darling Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation started its career in Berlin last year and now has Oscar nominations for foreign language and original screenplay. Memento Films International handled that film and this year has Ursula Meier’s Sister which has some buzz as do Caesar Must Die from Paolo and Vittorio Taviani (Rai Trade), Christian Petzold’s Barbara (Match Factory), A Moi Seul from Pyramide, Wide Management’s Aujourd’hui, Billy Bob Thornton’s Jayne Mansfield’s Car from Hyde Park and, the one I’ve heard most oft cited, Captive from Palme d’Or winning director Brillante Medoza which FilmsDistribution is handling.