The team behind the European Film Market (EFM), the industry wing of the Berlin Film Festival, had been busy preparing for a return to an in-person event in 2022 after they were forced to put last year’s edition online due to Covid.
EFM chief Dennis Ruh admits that having to move online again was always part of the backup planning, put says he had been “very confident” they would be able to return in person, right up until the rapid spread of Omicron saw them make the tough decision earlier this month.
While the film festival pushes on with a physical edition, albeit under tough restrictions such as 50% cinema capacities and no parties, the EFM, with its halls of stands and numerous meetings and cocktail events, simply wasn’t feasible at the moment.
It’s a kick in the teeth for Ruh, who has now seen his first two editions at the helm go virtual, but he remains upbeat about the online offering for this year and says uptake from delegates and exhibitors has been strong. Below, we talk over the plans for 2022 and what attendees can expect.
DEADLINE: How is everything shaping up? I’m assuming you and your team had been preparing with the possibility of having to move the market online again in the back of your minds?
DENNIS RUH: Yes, but we were very confident [of hosting a physical edition]. We had seen high interest in an in-person EFM. By the end of 2021, we had a lot of bookings for physical spaces. Then this Omicron variant appeared.
I still believe that the market and sales business will be back in a physical way. The sales business is a people business, I am confident of being back in person in 2023. Right now, we focus on our online offering. We are also seeing that some industry guests will travel to Berlin, especially for the films in the festival.
DEADLINE: Almost everyone I speak to says they’d rather be in Berlin for the EFM, if it were possible, so I’m sure it will come back strongly as a physical event.
RUH: Thanks for your confidence! I think we saw this already at late summer and autumn festivals. Venice had a similar number of industry attendance to pre-pandemic. People really want to gather.
DEADLINE: Are there any significant changes to the virtual EFM this year in comparison with last year?
RUH: No big changes, but I would say some improvements. Our main offers are the virtual stands, which have been technically improved, and our online market screenings, which will be more convenient for the rights holders.
One big change is that we will offer VOD catch-up screenings after the market. We will not only have the screening schedule with dedicated time slots, we will also have two further weeks of catch-up screenings for a number of films, including market and festival titles. This really makes sense, because right now have around 670 films submitted for market screenings, and more will be added. We expect to have a total of 1,200 screenings. It’s a big offer in a limited time.
DEADLINE: There’s no online equivalent for press is there?
RUH: There are no online press screenings, the program of press screenings will take place in Berlin. There will also be physical industry screenings, which we just added. The EFM was commissioned [by the festival] to organize those industry screenings, so there can be more availability.
DEADLINE: How much of the program will be covered by the physical press/industry screenings across those six days?
RUH: Mostly the entire program.
DEADLINE: What’s the uptake been like for online passes, in comparison with last year?
RUH: It’s still a work in progress, purchasing an online accreditation can be done right before an event. Last year many of the online badges were bought right before the market or even during it. At the moment, it looks like it will be about the same number of delegates. Last year we had around 12,000 daily visitors to the online market. I also think we might have more companies exhibiting at the market in comparison with 2021.
DEADLINE: Tell us about the conference program this year.
RUH: We’ve changed the format. This year we will have an opening session and a closing session, and in between we will have a three-part think-tank series focusing on future topics, producers and distribution. In the closing session we will share the key findings from the think-tanks plus the talks of the week. In the Series Market, we will again have a partner event with Series Mania, that will be the first part of a two-part conference, with the second part taking place in Lille in March. We are also doing events with Locarno Film Festival and IDFA.
DEADLINE: How is the city of Berlin in general right now, in regards to Covid?
RUH: I went out shopping the other day and the streets were packed, I put my mask on outside, which is not mandatory. Only the nightclubs are closed, you can go to bars at night, restaurants are open. You do need to have had the booster to go to them, or two shots of the vaccine plus daily tests.
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