“Every large film market has its own position within the industry, and that has not changed with the virtual edition”
Industry Report: Film Festival Trends
Dennis Ruh • Director, European Film Market
We talked to the new head of the European Film Market about the challenges and advantages in organising an online edition of the market
Just a few days before his first edition as the head of the European Film Market (EFM), Dennis Ruh offers an overview of the digital market that will run from 1-5 March, and shares his experience organising an event under these circumstances along with his predictions for the future.
Cineuropa: What are some of the challenges you’re facing in your first year as head of EFM, and do you think that this edition is a guideline for the future?
Dennis Ruh: The obvious challenge for my first year as EFM Director are the consequences of the pandemic. When I started in September, we thought a hybrid edition with a combination of online activities and a physical market would still be possible. Since the second lockdown in Germany in November, it became clearer that this would not work as the safety and wellbeing of our visitors is always a top priority, and we switched to an all-virtual concept. We now strive to offer all our visitors the best market experience possible under the given circumstances. I wouldn’t say that this will be a guideline for the future, but I am pretty sure that in a post-pandemic future, industry events will combine the best from both physical and digital worlds.
What are the advantages of a digital edition?
Last spring, when I was still active in my former position and the first industry events moved online, I started talking to buyers, producers, distributors, sales agents etc. about their perception of online markets. Apparently, digital markets work better than expected as people have packed meeting schedules and busy pitch sessions at their virtual market booths, and online screenings were attended more or less by the same number of clients as on-site. It was efficient because distributors didn’t have to move between screening facilities and sales agent booths, and this set-up was more convenient for buyers as well. Also, distributors didn’t need to recoup their travel costs, so the pressure to acquire films was lower. Challenged by the new market environment, sales agents also developed more forward-looking marketing strategies. Still, it is quite difficult to reproduce a networking environment in a digital space. We all know that the film business is a people’s business and personal face-to-face encounters create a different connection from virtual meetings. For the EFM, we developed informal networking events with a relaxed approach to getting together in the digital age. Additionally, we introduce the new initiative “EFM Goes Global” (read the news) which allows distributors in key distribution territories outside Europe to view films from the official Berlinale selection on the big screen. With climate and sustainability issues becoming more and more important, this initiative is intended to be a pilot project to meet those requirements in the future.
What is the added value that diversifies the EFM from the other markets?
Every large film market, like the Cannes Marché du Film, the American Film Market or us, has its own position within the industry, and that has not changed with the virtual edition. Distributors, buyers, broadcasters, sales agents, visit the markets because there is a need for content. We aim to offer them the virtual infrastructure for their business with the added value of an extensive conference programme tackling the latest trends and current developments in the industry. The programme is also addressed to producers, including presentations on virtual production, roundtables with experts, panels and workshops. We offer over 90 formats in total. Additionally, the Berlinale Series Market & Conference offers keynotes, showcases and a selection of commercially appealing series under the newly created label “Berlinale Series Market Selects” (read the news). Furthermore, we offer consultations with footage archives, and EFM Startups introduces emerging companies, presentations focusing on production tools, case studies with film commissioners, and much more. We are also launching the EFM Podcast “Industry Insights” on film industry topics, which will continue with new episodes all year round. Finally, for parenting attendees, the “Berlinale Kindergarten on Air”, developed by the initiative “Parenting at Film Festivals”, will help to focus on market activities, and we are pleased to continue our cooperation in this transformed concept.
Did the digital format open more opportunities for the markets?
I think all formats have their advantages and disadvantages. The digital format challenges everyone to rethink everything that only happened in a physical way for such a long time. Being forced to move online unleashed a lot of creativity to think about new formats and ways to do business in a virtual way that would have been unthinkable before. Nevertheless, nothing can replace meeting and getting to know someone in person. With the pandemic going on for such a long time, we are all looking forward to meeting each other in person again. I’m also looking forward to in-person encounters, hopefully in the summer.
Do you think that digital and/or hybrid formats are here to stay?
It is hard to project whether online markets will be continued after the pandemic. I am no clairvoyant, but I am pretty sure that some of the digital aspects will be kept in the future. At the same time, the interaction between the Berlinale and the EFM is usually strong. Even if the events need to take place in two steps this year, we see this as an exception and look forward to returning to the well-known and adored common celebration of cinema and trading platform of the international film industry.
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