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AFM Starts Amid Election Results

By Billy Gil | Posted: 06 Nov 2008

The American Film Market (AFM) began Nov. 5 with the acknowledgment that the previous day’s election was weighing heavily on the minds of all in attendance.

“Obviously today is a historic day,” said Jean Prewitt, president and CEO of the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA), during the market’s opening session. IFTA, a non-profit service and advocacy group for the independent film and television industry, puts on AFM, which takes place through Nov. 12 in Santa Monica, Calif.

Prewitt spoke of the changes her group hopes to affect, of its many visits to Washington D.C., in hopes of improving things for independent filmmakers, and that U.S. president-elect Barack Obama’s win over John McCain was encouraging because Obama has spoken about encouraging diversity in media, among other issues the group advocates.

“Those of us in the film industry know that it creates jobs,” Prewitt added.

Indeed, much of the opening session had to do with the election results. Some distributors housed at the Le Merigot Beach Hotel and Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, both spaces sold to capacity, had CNN on in the background and discussed election results with visitors in the suites.

“It was not long ago that he was a guy with a funny name that nobody knew,” said Lloyd Kaufman, chairman of IFTA, of Obama during the opening session. He compared Obama’s run to that of many independent films — small films that few know, but that have potential for great success — and called AFM the “ground zero” for independent art, thought and film.

IFTA also talked up its own election: In September the group announced its new board of directors, with four new members on its executive committee as well as five more new members to the general board. Jonathan Wolf, EVP of IFTA and managing director of AFM, called the new board “visionary,” “gutsy,” “fascinating” and “cross-cultural.”

IFTA heads were upbeat about AFM and its financial prospects while acknowledging the country’s current financial woes. Wolf said that during poor economic times, “some say that movie ticket sales do go up,” but admitting that the $800 million in deals estimated to be made at AFM was based on polls from last year’s show and that it was “in no way a prediction.”

Although many distributors looking to sell titles rather than buy them at the show, a few deals had been completed as of press time: TLA Releasing acquired nontheatrical, theatrical, home video, television and VOD rights for North America and the Caribbean region for Finding Me, about a young, gay black man’s journey to self-discovery, for release in spring 2009; while Wolfe Video acquired the rights to gay-themed films Whirlwind (DVD due Jan. 27, 2009) and Mulligans (DVD due spring 2009). Peace Arch Entertainment also had some acquisitions to announce: Fling (aka Lie to Me), a romantic comedy/drama starring and executive produced by Superman Returns’ Brandon Routh, due on DVD in March 2009; and Fight Night (aka Rigged), a “girl fight” actioner due on DVD in April 2009.

MTI Home Video president Larry Brahms said it was still a “buyer’s market” for those looking to acquire home video product, but that “the menu is far more limited than in previous years.”

Also, on Nov. 6 Koch Vision and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation launched a new partnership at the show entitled The Archive of American Television Presents, to put historically important television on DVD, beginning with the Studio One Anthology, featuring episodes from CBS’s “Westinghouse Presents Studio One” series, releasing Nov. 11. Home Media Magazine publisher and editorial director Thomas K. Arnold moderated the launch event Nov. 6, featuring actors Jack Klugman, Gloria Strook and Barbara Rush, at the Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre in North Hollywood, Calif.

But overall, things were pretty quiet on the first days of AFM, and with 409 production and distribution companies from 36 countries, and more than 500 screenings scheduled, deal-making had just begun.

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