AFM 2023 Announces Initial Exhibitors, Programming

The American Film Market, running over six days Oct. 31 – Nov. 5 at its new headquarters located at Le Méridien Delfina Santa Monica (530 Pico Blvd.) in Santa Monica, Calif., has signed up more than 245 exhibitors, according to organizers.

Industry screenings are set at theaters throughout the city and the AFM’s conference series, The AFM Sessions, will take place at The Hilton Santa Monica Hotel (1707 4th St).   

The exhibitor list features independent film and TV production, sales and distribution companies as well as national pavilions from China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Thailand and the United Kingdom.  International trade organizations, film commissions and production service companies also have a significant presence as part of this year’s enhanced LocationEXPO exhibition, according to organizers. 

Exhibitors include such sales companies as: A24, AGC Studios, Altitude Film Sales, Amazon MGM Studios, Anton, Bankside Films, Beta Cinema, Black Bear Pictures, Blue Fox Entertainment, Charades, Cinema Management Group, CJ ENM, Emperor Motion Pictures, Film Mode Entertainment, FilmNation, GAGA Corporation, Gaumont, Global Screen GmbH, HanWay Films, Lakeshore, Lionsgate, MGM Studios, Millennium Media, Odin’s Eye Entertainment, Orange Studio, Pathé Films, Protagonist Pictures, SND Groupe M6, Studiocanal, Toei Company, TrustNordisk, Unifrance, Voltage Pictures, WME Independent, and XYZ Films. The current exhibitor list is here

Registrants include buyers from more than 65 countries to date, according to organizers.   

“All indicators are pointing to a strong AFM23 and we look forward to hosting the global industry in just a few weeks,” Jean Prewitt, IFTA president and CEO said in a statement. “Asia which was still impacted by COVID restrictions last year is well-represented again, as are the U.K. and Europe — especially Italy, France, Germany and Spain. AFM is the only major fall film market and its location, close to the beach as well as to the Los Angeles studios, streamers and agencies, solidifies it as an essential destination for the industry to meet, conduct business and celebrate independent film, even in the midst of current challenges.” 

Alongside the sales activity and screenings, The AFM Sessions will bring 30-plus panels across two stages over four days beginning Nov. 1.

Day one highlights include: 

  • Film Funding Today: The Benefits & Limitations of Global Tax Incentives
    Jeaneane Davey, Netflix, Patrick Rizzotti, Blue Fox Financing, Ryan Broussard, Wrapbook, and Will French, Fallbrook 
  • The Global Perspective: Breaking the Boundaries of Today’s Film Marketplace
    Christian Vesper, Fremantle, Syrinthia Studer, Paramount Pictures, Mark Gooder, Cornerstone and Steven Gaydos, Variety 
  • The Content Audiences Want & The Industry Needs to Provide 
    Lourdes Diaz, AGC Studios, Jeffrey Greenstein, Millennium Media, Joe Lewis, Amplify Pictures, and Maren Olson, 30WEST 


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Other programming highlights include:  

  • Changing Minds and Bettering Lives Through Storytelling: Karen Lunder, Imagine Entertainment, Anikah McLaren, Participant Media, and Jamal Henderson, The SpringHill Company 
  • Developing, Pitching, and Making Television: Nathan Varni, ABC/Disney, Kate Gill, Paramount Television Studios, Leila Cohan, writer and producer (“Bridgerton”), and Vijal Patel, writer and producer (“Black-ish”), and Richard Botto, Stage 32 
  • Harnessing the Power of Music for Film: Kris Le-Roy, Universal Production Music, Satya Fuentes, Netflix, Cristina May, music director and producer, Garo Setian, creative director, Jeff Cardoni, composer for film & television, and Ryan Svendsen, Millennium Media 
  • Fast Times in the Ad-Supported Distribution Landscape for Independents: Will Gurman, Paramount Streaming, Yolanda Macias, Cinedigm, and Tyler Aquilina, Variety Intelligence Platform 
  • The Pitch Conference: Cassian Elwes, Elevated Film Sales, Lorelle Lynch, AGC Studios, and Jee Jessup, Consultant 
  • Managing Common Legal Risks in Production: Phil Strina, Lionsgate, Kirk D’Amico, Myriad Pictures, Joanne Hoffman, Hoffman Entertainment Law and Roger Goff, Goff Law Corp. 
  • Getting Your Film Made, Seen, and Profitable in The Streaming Era:
    Brian Beckmann, Arclight Films, Juliet Berman, Spiral Stairs Entertainment, Sophia Dilley, Concord Originals, and Paul Scanlan, Legion M 
  • Economic Development: Moviemaking on Native Land: Joanelle Romero, Red Nation Celebration Institute, Allison Whitmer, Commissioner, Montana Film Office, Coni Shepperd, Southern Kentucky Film Commission, Cyndy McCrossen, Liaison, City of Albuquerque Film, Marcei Brown, Founder, Crewie, and Mike Fantasia, Former President, LMGI
  • Evolving Roles and Relationships: Sales Agents and Producers
    Clay Epstein, Film Mode Entertainment, Marc Goldberg, Signature Films, Mark Padilla, Jack Rabbit Media, and Nadine de Barros, Fortitude International 


The initial schedule and speakers can be viewed here.

BayView Entertainment Acquires Passion River Films Assets

BayView Entertainment has entered into an agreement to acquire certain assets of Passion River Films, the independent film and documentary distributor behind such releases as Between the Shades, Murder in Coweta County (1983, starring Johnny Cash) and The Diabetes Solution.

BayView Entertainment will handle the bulk of Passion River’s catalog, both currently available titles and recently acquired films that have yet to be released.

Passion River’s catalog features Academy Award nominees and Emmy-winning films as well as hundreds of films that have been recognized at the Independent Spirit Awards, Sundance Film Festival, SXSW, Tribeca Film Festival and many other events.

Launched in 1998, Passion River Films has been devoted to acquiring, distributing, and representing unique independent films and documentaries. 

Passion River’s Josh Levin has joined BayView as its VP of sales.

“This agreement will add an exciting new dimension to our library,” Peter Castro, BayView’s VP of acquisitions and business development, said in a statement. “Passion River’s wide-ranging titles will be an essential part of BayView’s ongoing release strategy. We are committed and eager to make Passion River a successful part of the BayView family.”

“I am so excited to be able to present buyers around the world the quality horror, arthouse, comedy, action, thriller, fitness and educational titles in BayView’s portfolio in addition to the outstanding documentary and indie catalog of films coming over from Passion River,” Levin said in a statement.

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“It’s exciting to watch Bayview persist in our goal of supporting talented filmmakers and releasing impactful films for communities,” Passion River president Allen Chou said in a statement.

Earlier this year, BayView announced it had acquired U.K.-based Genre label VIPCO as well as Mutiny Pictures, the independent label responsible for uncovering the film Skinamarink, currently in theatrical release from IFC Midnight Films.

CEO Nolan Gallagher to Step Down From Gravitas Ventures

Gravitas Ventures, an Anthem Sports and Entertainment company, has announced that Nolan Gallagher, who founded the company in Los Angeles in 2006, will be stepping down as CEO and leaving the company on March 31. 

Anthem Sports and Entertainment — a multinational media company with offices throughout North American — bought Gravitas in November 2021.

Under Gallagher’s leadership, Gravitas became a leading global all rights theatrical distribution company that released more than 3,000 films on VOD and whose films garnered industry recognition from the Film Independent Spirit Awards, Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and numerous international film festivals. 

Gallagher was listed among Media Play News’ top 20 Indie Power Players in 2022.

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In 2019, co-owners Gallagher, Michael Murphy and Brendan Gallagher moved Gravitas to Cleveland to further economic momentum for media and entertainment in their hometown. To continue that economic impact in Cleveland, Gallagher and Murphy recently announced they were awarded ownership of a Major League Soccer (MLS) Next Pro men’s professional soccer team that will begin play in 2025. 

Anthem also owns entertainment properties including AXS-TV, HD Net Movies, Fight Network, Impact Wrestling, Invicta FC, Game TV and Game+ and has an ownership stake in the Pursuit channel.

Nominations Now Being Accepted for Media Play News’ Second Annual ‘Indie Power Players’

Media Play News is getting ready to once again honor the top players in independent film distribution — and based on the overwhelming response to our inaugural Top Indie Power Players feature last year, we are expanding the list of honorees to 30 from 20 in 2022.

“Top Indie Power Players” 2023 will be published in the March print and digital edition of Media Play News, which hits the street on March 20. The feature also will run online a week later.

Once again, we will profile the key executives who are bringing to consumers an eclectic mix of groundbreaking new productions, cult classics and niche product from documentaries to music, horror and other genres. They’ve been doing multi-platform releasing for years, with a special focus on home audiences across the three core platforms we cover: streaming, disc and digital (TVOD and electronic sellthrough).

“Once again, we’re going to dig deep into what they do, how they do it and where the business is headed,” said MPN publisher Thomas K. Arnold.

Nominations are being accepted through Friday, Feb. 24. The official entry form may be accessed here.

AFM Panel: Future of Indie Film Distribution Bright, But More Complicated

The future of independent film distribution is bright, but it’s more complicated than in the past, said panelists Nov. 3 at the American Film Market in Los Angeles.

Theatrical distribution of independent films has taken a hit, especially in the wake of the pandemic, but the opportunities in digital distribution are expansive if you’ve got good content, said speakers on the “Forecasting the Future for Independent Film” panel.

“It might be that the theatrical portion is less, but the overall the pie is getting bigger,” said Martin Moszkowicz, chairman of the executive board of Constantin Film.

“Theatrical is going to change,” said David Fannon, EVP of distribution at Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, and president of Screen Media Ventures. “Everything is changing right now. It’s going to be different. Content is going be different — where it’s going to be viewed. But you know when television first came out, that was the death knell to movies, and it wasn’t. Home video was the death knell, and it wasn’t. DVD. Digital. And it hasn’t been. The only damaging thing to movies has been COVID. And that’s the one thing none of us really could expect or plan against. And we’re trying to recover from that. Now people have gotten used to watching things in their homes. The TVs are getting much bigger. It’s changing the viewing experience. But the communal experience to watch a movie and going to a theater, that will not die. It’s still going to be a part of the fabric of our lives.”

“I think indie films will continue to be in theaters,” agreed Ashley Stern, president, Picture Perfect Federation/Federation Entertainment of America. “I think that window may shrink a bit.”

Her company is open to different distribution models, she said.

“We at our company are very open to finding the right home for every single movie,” she said.

Digital distribution, especially ad-supported streaming, has not been fully tapped globally, Fannon said.

“I think Europe and the rest of the world still haven’t really taken on the AVOD opportunity yet,” he said. “I think that’s going to be a real boon to independent filmmakers, the opportunity that AVOD presents.”

While it provides a greatly expanded platform for content, streaming requires indie filmmakers to step up content quality, panelists said.

“There’s going to be an unlimited need for content, but it’s got to be good,” Fannon said. “It’s got to be good content. I hate to say this, but I’ve been a con man for a good part of my career. I used to say, just give me good artwork and a good trailer and I’ve got a movie and I could sell it. But in this new world that’s not going to cut it so much. I need the consumer to stay. I need them to watch it and enjoy it. I need the Rotten Tomatoes score to be high. There’s a lot of other things that are going on that we didn’t have to worry about before. DVD was just, let’s get a good cover together. Put the artwork on the cover and you’re gonna rent DVDs. That’s all you needed. Give me a couple of names in the cast. It was easy. Now it’s going to be hard because you’ve really got to look for quality content.”

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The type of content is changing with streaming as well, with opportunities for longer-form, miniseries-type storytelling offering “the freedom to tell a real story, to go beyond the limits of a 90-minute movie,” he said.

“You’ve got a little more flexibility to really tell the story properly, so I think it’s an abundance of opportunity,” he said.

Panelists said data on content is still hard to get from streaming platforms.

They offer general data trends “but no specifics,” Stern said.

“They’re sharing some more data than they used to,” Moszkowicz said, but he said he thinks data is “overrated.”

“If you talk to people at the streamers and you know them one on one, they will tell you that metrics are way overrated,” he said.

AFM to Make In-Person Return to Santa Monica Nov. 1-6

The American Film Market will return to Santa Monica for its 43rd edition, taking place in person Nov. 1 to 6, the Independent Film & Television Alliance announced.

The market, which planned its shift to a six-day run in 2020, will take place at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel and theaters throughout the city.

Registration will open May 9 for exhibitors.  Accredited Buyers and Industry Attendees may register beginning July 5.

The Loews Hotel will be home to sales and production companies, LocationEXPO, and, new for 2022, all conferences and panels.

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“There is more excitement about the future than I’ve seen in two years and in-person markets are more vital than ever,” Clay Epstein, chairperson, IFTA and president of Film Mode Entertainment, said in a statement. “The desire to return to Santa Monica for AFM is at an all-time high and we are eager to reunite the global industry in November.”

FilmRise Acquires N.A. Distribution Rights to ‘The Justice of Bunny King’

FilmRise, the New York-based film and television studio and streaming network, has acquired North American digital, broadcast and theatrical distribution rights to The Justice of Bunny King.

Starring Essie Davis (The Babadook, Assassin’s Creed) and Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit, Last Night in Soho, The Power of the Dog), the film is New Zealander Gaysorn Thavat’s feature directorial debut and follows the triumphant and heart-breaking story of a mother who tries to battle her way back from the bottom to regain custody of her children.

In the film, Bunny King (Davis), a headstrong mother of two with a sketchy past, makes a living by washing windows at traffic lights. Using her razor-sharp wit to charm money from gridlocked motorists, she saves every cent in order to try to regain custody of her two children, who have been placed in foster care. After promising her daughter a birthday party, Bunny must fight social services and break the rules to keep her word, but in doing so she risks losing her children altogether. Accompanied by her niece Tonyah (McKenzie), a fierce teenager running away from home and desperate for her aunt’s help, Bunny is in a race against the clock and headed towards an epic showdown with the authorities.

“This is another set of excellent performances that will be added to our ever-growing library of diverse and independent films that tell often overlooked stories,” Danny Fisher, CEO of FilmRise, said in a statement. “Through a rawness of someone who has hit rock bottom, both Essie Davis and Thomasin McKenzie convey through the very real struggles that many families face on a daily basis.”

The film, produced by Emma Slade of Firefly Films, had its worldwide premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival where it received the Special Jury Mention for the Nora Ephron Award. The film was an Official Selection at the 2021 Edinburgh International Film Festival, the Melbourne International Film Festival, and the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, where Essie Davis was nominated for the Best Performance by an Actress award.

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The deal was negotiated by Katie Carroll Manager, independent film acquisitions for FilmRise, and Jonathan Walik, international sales executive for Protagonist Pictures.

“Essie Davis gives yet another tour de force performance in what has become a career full of them in this critically acclaimed debut,” Walik said in a statement. “We’re thrilled that The Justice of Bunny King has found a home with FilmRise in North America and have no doubt that their expertise in handling outstanding independent film will allow the film to reach as wide an audience as possible.”

Top 20 Execs in Independent Film to Be Honored in February Issue of Media Play News

Media Play News will honor the top 20 players in independent film distribution in the February 2022 issue.

Indie film distributors bring to consumers an eclectic mix of daring new productions, cult classics and niche product from music to horror. They’ve been doing multi-platform releasing for years, and range from simple distribution to content acquisition, management and production.

“We’re going to dig deep into what they do, how they do it and where the business is headed,” said MPN publisher Thomas K. Arnold.

The special issue will be published on Feb. 21, 2022, in both print and digital editions. The story also will run online a week after publication. 

Nominations are being accepted through Thursday, Jan. 20. The official entry form may be accessed here.

Arnold said he hopes the salute will be an annual feature, similar to Women in Home Entertainment and 40 Under 40.

“Independent film distributors have played a key role in home entertainment since the very first days of the industry,” Arnold said. “Some of the most compelling and inventive films were being brought to the home market by companies such as Anchor Bay, Artisan, LIVE, Media Home Entertainment, Trimark, Vestron and others.

“As VHS gave way to DVD, Blu-ray Disc and, ultimately, digital and streaming, a whole new band of independents continue to play a vital role in our business, and since the majority of their releases are aimed at home audiences we felt it was time to shine the spotlight on these brave entrepreneurs.”

SXSW Prize Winner ‘S#!%house’ Due on DVD and Blu-ray May 18 From IFC

The comedic romance S#!%house will come out on DVD and Blu-ray May 18 from IFC Films.

The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival.

In the film, lonely college freshman Alex (writer/directory Cooper Raiff) has closed himself off from his peers who all appear to have college figured out. But everything changes one night when he takes a leap and attends a party at S#!%house — a legendary party fraternity — where he forges a strong connection with Maggie (Dylan Gelula, First Girl I Loves). The next day, she ignores him completely and seems to have forgotten about their amazing night. Desperately clinging to his social breakthrough, Alex pulls out all the stops with one more night at the fraternity, hoping to rekindle that moment of connection.

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‘No Wave’ Classics ‘Subway Riders,’ ‘The Foreigner’ and ‘Unmade Beds’ Due on DVD Sept. 29 From MVD

Filmmaker Amos Poe’s “No Wave” classics Subway Riders, The Foreigner and Unmade Beds will come out on DVD Sept. 29 from MVD Entertainment Group.

“No wave” was a short-lived avant-garde music and art scene that erupted in New York City in the late 1970s as a reaction to punk rock. The term “no wave” was a pun on “new wave.” The movement only lasted a few years, but had a profound influence on the development of independent film, fashion and visual arts.

Subway Riders is 1981 drama shot in New York City following a psychotic street saxophonist who lures victims into dark city spots with his haunting music — then shoots them. Seedy characters, including a cop with a junkie wife, an upstairs sax-hating prostitute and other lost souls litter the landscape. Written, produced and directed by legendary “punk filmmaker” Poe (Alphabet City, Dead Weekend), the film features Cookie Mueller (Pink Flamingos, Desperate Living), Susan Tyrell (Cry Baby, Forbidden Zone), Robbie Coltrane (“Harry Potter” series), Poe and John Lurie (Get Shorty).

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The Foreigner, for the first time ever on DVD, is a 1978 New York drama following European Max Menace who arrives in New York City on an unknown mission. Boredom sets in as he waits for his assignment. Alienation thrusts him into entanglements with women, weirdos and creeps. Their unstructured lives echo the purposefully meandering storyline reflecting the reality of being meaningless in a hostile city. Written, produced and directed by Poe, the film features Debbie Harry (lead singer of Blondie, Videodrome), Poe, Lux Interior (The Social Network) and the punk band The Cramps as themselves.

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Also written, produced and directed by Poe, Unmade Beds, also starring Harry, is a 1976 drama following Rico in New York City, who imagines he lives in Paris during the time of “New Wave” filmmaking. He’s a photographer who thinks he’s an outsider, so he uses his camera like a gun, loading it with bullets of film. He seeks reality to fulfill his fantasy. But he’s also a romantic, and this is his downfall, especially when he falls in love with Blondie. The film pays homage to Jean Luc Godard as it parallels the French classic Breathless. It also stars Poe and Robert Gordon (Natural Born Killers).