Taking the reins of the European Film Market from the Berlinale after the departure of Matthijs Wouter Knol, who left last year to lead the European Film Academy, was never going to be easy. Throwing an ongoing pandemic into the mix, which upended traditional industry interactions and disrupted international travel, and the oversight role of one of the world’s most significant cinematic events seemed even more difficult.
Come on Dennis Ruh, the fresh-faced executive who, in his role as head of festival relations and producer liaison at national organization German Films, had forged an international network of contacts and a local reputation. avant-garde before being hired by top brass Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian.
Berlinale names six Golden Bear winners as international jury for 2021 festival
The festival and market will be held in an unconventional format this year due to the current situation. An event for the public is planned for June, when the films will be screened in theaters, while the industrial activity of the festival takes place from March 1-5 in a virtual format, during which buyers will also have access to the program more off the festival, which is expected to be unveiled next week.
The team, however, tried to respect the need for a big screen experience for movie theater buyers and launched the new ‘EFM Goes Global’ initiative, which will see physical screenings held in Tokyo, Melbourne, Sae Paulo and Mexico City for regional distributors. .
We caught up with Ruh a few weeks away from the market to see how prospects are looking for this year, what the industry can expect from his debut edition, and what he thinks the future of these types of events will look like.
DEADLINE: Congratulations on your new role – how did it feel to step into this position in the midst of this lingering situation?
DENNIS RUH: Thank you! First of all, I was and am very happy to be the director of the EFM. It was a huge honor and at the same time an exciting challenge. The pandemic and its real consequences subsequently became more relevant. When I officially started in September, we still thought that it would be possible to offer a hybrid market alongside a festival – more or less regular. Managing the first virtual edition of the EFM is of course a challenge, but I am determined to accept it. At the same time, circumstances mobilize energy and support creativity.
DEADLINE: The market is a month away now – how are listings looking compared to last year?
RUH: At the moment, the number of market badges is about the same as last year. But the dynamics of online events are different from those of on-site events. As potential participants do not need to plan their travel and accommodation, the decision to attend and register can be made much later. Registration will remain open even during the EFM.
DEADLINE: What about the number of participating film projects?
RUH: Reservation of market projections is always possible. It is therefore too early to talk about the final figures. But the number of reserved market projections looks very promising. As for the series, the same number was offered in Europe, but less from the United States. In general, the slates of the commercial agents are packed.
DEADLINE: How well have you analyzed events such as the Cannes Virtual Walk and other online marketplaces to inform your planning? And what will you do differently?
RUH: We have taken a close look at other industry events. But I don’t want to compare EFM to other markets. Every market is different. The Cannes market was the first market at the very start of the pandemic to go online and I think it worked very well. Watching the AFM online in November, the turnout and feedback was also very positive.
Attendees experienced intense and effective meetings, exhibitors saw more or less the same number of viewers during their online screenings, all attendees talked about busy schedules – and all of this combined with no travel costs or time. Having said that, last summer I also visited the Venice Film Festival including the physical Venice production bridge and later the MIA market in Rome. These events have shown once again that the cinema is the business of the people and always will be. The personal connection of actually meeting your contacts and connecting on a personal level cannot be replaced by a virtual event. But I am convinced that in the future we will bring together the best of both worlds – digital and physical.
DEADLINE: Six months ago people might have had a more optimistic view of the potential of virtual events when they were more of a novelty – I wonder if some apathy could set in now as this situation drags on. . How do you keep them interesting and fresh?
RUH: I recognize that due to the ongoing pandemic, online formats dominate our business activities. We have therefore designed our program to make it “digitally digestible”: we have adapted the conferences to the digital environment. And we added physical components like little yoga breaks. What has changed in my opinion is that people expect more from an online event than they did in the beginning. That’s why we are focused on offering a combination of excellent screenings of high-quality arthouse content, easily accessible virtual kiosks as well as a conference program that is on point with top class speakers.
DEADLINE: Television has been a growing part of the Berlinale and EFM in recent years – do you expect this to continue?
RUH: Absolutely. Television and streaming platforms have become one of the essential and important storytelling media of our time. The streaming revolution has made it possible to reach people with serialized content around the world and to rally millions around common interests. The Berlinale and the EFM have traditionally brought together moviegoers and industry, so showcasing high-quality television drama series, inspiring discussion and fueling professional exchange is a natural consequence. Berlinale Series Market & Conference is now in its seventh year and we’re keeping pace in giving our industry audience insight into current trends and opportunities to connect with the creators and makers of the current TV content boom.
DEADLINE: One of the big things that I miss in markets is socializing – are you doing anything this year to try to replicate that side of things?
RUH: You’re right, it’s probably the most difficult item to replace in the virtual world. At EFM 2021 we will be showcasing our informal ‘Mix and Mingle’ formats which will be a joyful approach to coming together in the digital age: meeting old and new friends, sharing laughs and hanging out in a relaxed atmosphere. .
DEADLINE: Different time zones can be a challenge for participants, are you doing something about it?
RUH: For conferences, the “Golden Hour” has become a focal point to reach our market players in different time zones with live formats. And much of our conference program will be available as VOD content thereafter. Additionally, we will be producing the EFM Daily, a 15-minute mid-day summary of the day’s program, providing insight and criticism even if market players failed to access the event in live or want to preview bullet points. of the day. And for market projections, the jet lag is not a problem.
DEADLINE: The EFM went live as the festival split into two events – will the EFM be held entirely from March 1-5 or are there any plans to hold other events of the industry later in the year?
RUH: The summer festival is not planned as an industry event – then we will already focus on EFM 2022 and develop new ideas and concepts, as we cannot expect the company to be the same as in the pre-pandemic period.
DEADLINE: There have been many events that have experienced financial difficulties during this time (as has the industry in general) – do you need to cut costs and will this impact be felt in the years to come?
RUH: We are fortunate to be able to count on the financial support of the German Government Commissioner for Culture and Media. Without the support of the “Neustart Kultur (Restart Culture)” program, the EFM would not have been possible in 2021.
We also depend on the economic well-being of the film industry and distribution. I really hope that sales agents will largely survive these turbulent times. These companies are essential to make national films and international co-productions known to the world and to enrich the variety of films available in theaters and on platforms.
DEADLINE: Do you think the internet will be a bigger component of markets in the future, even after this pandemic is over (hopefully)?
RUH: It will likely be a combination of the two – a physical event with virtual elements. But everyone is looking forward to the return of personal meetings. As mentioned, in the end, it’s a people business.