AFF’s Strategic Partners has become a copro haven

Strategic Partners is the international coproduction conference held during the Atlantic Film Festival which brings together producers, distributors, broadcasters and agents in an effort to create networks for future projects and secure financing for existing scripts. SP runs Sept. 18-20 this year, its 12th edition.

Strategic Partners is the international coproduction conference held during the Atlantic Film Festival which brings together producers, distributors, broadcasters and agents in an effort to create networks for future projects and secure financing for existing scripts. SP runs Sept. 18-20 this year, its 12th edition.

The three-day event is capped at 200 attendees so the conference maintains its ‘intimate vibe,’ according to its director, Jan Miller, who says the economy has affected participation this year.

‘We’re finding that some regular attendees cannot afford to return,’ says Miller, noting that others will as they need partners more than ever. ‘I’ve found unexpected people saying to me, ‘We have to come to SP because we have to understand the Canadian system more because we have to look at coproductions.’ The downturn in the economy has resulted in people recognizing that they have to find partnerships.’

Registered delegates participate in close to 1,000 prescheduled business meetings with filmmakers and financers in an intimate setting that allows direct access to potential international copro opportunities and industry leaders.

This year SP spotlights Germany (for the third time) and Ireland. Miller talks about previous SP outings to make her point that they have led to a number of successful copros.

For example, John N. Smith’s AFF gala Love and Savagery went through Strategic Partners and emerged as a Canadian/Irish copro.

‘What I’ve learned immensely is that these projects have to go through a million different opportunities,’ explains Miller, ‘and Strategic Partners is recognized by the producers of all those that it was significant in helping them develop.’

The German connection has also borne fruit in Bruce LaBruce’s Otto; or, Up with Dead People, a Canada/Germany copro, as well as Surveillance, the Jennifer Lynch thriller structured as a U.S./German co-venture.

Last year, Miller was approached by the Erich Pommer Institut, a German organization that looks at international legal issues relevant to the film industry, which led to the development of Trans Atlantic Partners, a two-module training program that brings together established European and Canadian producers – including Anne Bernier of imX Communications, a Halifax-based production company with several copro credits, including The River King (Canada/U.K.) and Julie Walking Home (Canada/Germany/Poland), and producer Sharon McGowan (Better Than Chocolate) – effectively creating a spin-off of SP that dovetails with the whole Atlantic festival experience.

‘I thought it was a great idea and I did all the due diligence with it,’ says Miller. ‘There were 12 countries besides Canada that all came on board. We all met in Berlin. Niv Fichman [Blindness, Silk] was one of our key people. We did a case study of Mr. Nobody [a Belgium/France/Germany copro by Jaco van Dormael]. It set it all off. What we’ve created is Trans Atlantic Partners.’

TAP producers will arrive in Halifax a couple of days early to reconnect and do a case study of the Oscar-winning Irish film Once, which will lead into Strategic Partners.

Delegations from SP’s international spotlight countries (Germany and Ireland) will participate in the new training initiative.

Keynote speakers include producer Roger Frappier, co-founder of Montreal’s Max Films and a 2008 inductee into Playback’s Canadian Film and Television Hall of Fame (see story opposite), and Simon Vaughan, CEO of London/L.A.-based Alchemy Television Group and producer of the new Ben Hur TV series.

‘[Vaughan's] slant will be Harnessing the World as Your Domestic Marketplace,’ says Miller. ‘His whole idea is that you have to start internationally.’

Nova Scotia producer/director Chaz Thorne was the toast of the AFF in 2007 with a feature he wrote and produced, Poor Boy’s Game, and one he wrote and directed, Just Buried, both featured at the festival. He has attended SP a couple of times and is currently seeing its long-term benefits.

‘Actually, the film that I’m working on right now [a comedy called Whirligig],’ says Thorne, came about after ‘my international distributor and I happened to meet at Strategic Partners. When I was putting together the financing for this film I gave him a call, and now we’re working together.’

Whirligig distributor is Morris Ruskin from Shoreline Entertainment, and Thorne is hoping to shoot in Nova Scotia over the winter.

‘That one meeting [at SP] that you have,’ observes Thorne, ‘it may seem like an in-passing thing at the time, [but it] could actually make the difference if you make a movie in the future.’

Veteran producer Camelia Frieberg was also at SP in 2007, with two projects in the works, a feature script she wrote called Dizzy and the Amy McKay novel she’d optioned, The Birth House.

‘Concretely, neither of those projects has yet come to pass, which is not an unusual thing in the film world,’ says Frieberg laughing. ‘At the same time, amazing contacts were made out of that. Though they weren’t fruitful directly for those projects, they were [useful] in many other ways. And they may yet bear fruit for those ones. You can’t look at these things short term or you’d just put the noose around your neck.’

Frieberg lauds Miller for her understanding of how the social side of SP really helps, not just quick meetings, but the dinners and mixers that really benefit the attendees. ‘Those create the non-pressure opportunities to clink a glass, and that’s when the real meet happens.’

Speaking of opportunities to meet, Frieberg is working on a new venture, The Pollination Project, a multi-disciplinary creative retreat at her property on Nova Scotia’s south shore.

‘It’s about arts and ecology and health and society,’ says Frieberg. ‘My best experiences in producing films and teaching about producing films always happened when you rubbed elbows with people you’d never otherwise meet.’