Optimism Rules at American Film Market 2021

By Pickle  November 2, 2021
Jonathan Wolf

Amidst the challenges posed by the global pandemic over the past two years, the American Film Market will be going virtual from November 1 to 5 on its proprietary interactive campus AFM 2021 Online which was built in 2020 for the second year in a row. As the opening of the last major global film industry event on the 2021 calendar, which is produced by the Independent Film & Television Alliance kicked off on a bright note, Jonathan Wolf, Managing Director, American Film Market, tells Vivek Ratnakar and Natarajan Vidyasagar, Pickle in detail about major challenges and what participants can look forward to in this edition.

The American Film Market is being organized online second year in a row. How has been the response and what can participants expect from this edition?

The AFM virtual platform will be presenting an engaging and effective environment for discovery, education, deal making, networking and reconnecting. More than 300 production and sales companies, as well as international trade organizations from 25+ countries have already registered as exhibitors for the market.  AFM will also bring its distinguished Conferences and educational programming back online with two stages running simultaneously and featuring more than 50 live sessions exploring film topics from script to screen. The sessions will also be made available the same day on-demand for attendees to stream at their convenience. 

Over 150 industry professionals and decision makers will participate in AFM 2021 Online’s programming lineup.  Over five days, 7,000+ professionals from 70+ countries will access the entire global catalogue of available films and projects, attend world class conferences, and connect with decision makers.

What are the new features added in this year’s edition?

As far as new session highlights are concerned, AFM 2021 Online will feature a story analyst’s approach to screenwriting, focus on Animation as a growing territory for independents, and sessions like Black Filmmakers at the Crossroads to Success (presented in partnership with AAFCA), Bridging the Production Insurance Gap, The Casting Effect: How Talent Choices Impact Every Phase of Production, International Film Market: Consumption of Black Culture, Rejection of Black Stories (presented in partnership with NAACP)and New Perspective on Horror.

In addition, AFM has announced its lineup of eight Premiere Sponsors.  The sponsors, each of which will present a dedicated location on the AFM 2021 Online campus, include Apojo Publications, Entertainment Partners, Filmhub, Honolulu Film Office, JAPAN/JETRO, Media Services Payroll, Polish Film Institute, and Whip Media.

How will you make sure that the virtual platform would serve AFM’s diverse constituency?

The AFM is the most efficient film acquisition, development and networking event in the world. Over US$1 billion in production and distribution deals are closed every year — on both completed films and those in every stage of development and production. The pivot to online would allow for all stakeholders around the world to participate in the market. It offers a good opportunity for people to explore different ways of accessing people. Only about a third of AFM’s participants are buying and selling. The other two-thirds are part of the production community. There are producers, writers, film commissions, lawyers, bankers, sales agents and those who provide production facilities. So, the platform was created so as to make sure that we could serve that diverse constituency.

AFM map

AFM is known for handholding and supporting global independent film makers. What can they expect to gain from this virtual edition?

The global film industry has set aside this week (November 9-13) to connect for deal making, presentations, and education, and to gather marketplace intel from one another.  AFM’s engaging online experience, with the types of serendipitous meetings that happen organically in the halls, hotels and parties each year in Santa Monica, will keep everyone in touch and ensure that independent film continues to reach audiences around the world.

AFM 2021 Online will commence with the opening session – The Independent Film Ecosphere – Present and Future, featuring Liesl Copland, EVP, Content and Platform Strategy, Participant, Jonathan Kier, Co-President, Upgrade Productions, Brian O’Shea, CEO, The Exchange, Julia Weber, Head of International Sales & Acquisitions, Global Screen – A TELEPOOL Brand, and moderated by Stephen Galloway, Dean of Chapman University Dodge College of Film and Media Arts.

Tell us about major challenges that the global pandemic has posed for independents and how does AFM plan to help them reconnect?

The challenges posed by streaming platforms, exacerbated by the global pandemic over the past two years, have been formidable for independents. However, despite the tumult of paradigm-shifting moves by monolithic media corporations, the ingenuity and experience of independent buyers, sellers, producers and financiers of all sizes has, by and large, enabled them to survive.

AFM 2020 showed us that how a crisis can be converted into an opportunity. At a time when the world is gripped by Covid-19 pandemic, American Film Market was conducted in a successful manner by taking the virtual route. AFM firmly believes that for the resilient independents who are willing to look for the best talent and scripts and find innovative ways to attract actors and directors, human connection is critical, even if that means meeting people virtually thousands of miles apart on a laptop.

AFM 2021 is being organized at a time when there is still uncertainty about when theaters around the world will open. How will you address this challenge?

We are optimistic that theaters will be open around the world by at least mid-summer. A lot of the business that’s done at the AFM is done on films that haven’t started shooting yet. So the business is really about films for a year from now. And so I expect to see a lot of business taking place.

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