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Santa Monica Loses Lucrative Film Market


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By Jorge Casuso

March 10, 2024 -- After 33 years in Santa Monica, the American Film Market (AFM) announced Friday it is moving to Las Vegas, dealing a crushing blow to the city's slowly recovering economy.

The market -- which pumps more than $20 million into Santa Monica's economy during its annual week-long stay -- drew more than 7,000 participants from 70 countries during the city's slow winter season.

City officials pointed to Santa Monica's expensive hotel rates, which are among the highest in the State; concerns about crime and homelessness, and ongoing protests by the hotel union as reasons for the move.

"It's a big deal, and I think it hurts," said Mayor Phil Brock. "but at the end of the day we can't compete with hotel rates in Vegas. And they have enough rooms to keep the rates lower."

The Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA), which organizes the AFM, announced the event would move to the Palms Resort Casino for this year's show, which runs from November 5 to 10.

The casino boasts a 14-screen multiplex and a 170,000-square-foot meeting conference and event space.

In a statement Friday, IFTA Chairperson Clay Epstein called the decision to move the venue "monumental."

"After extensive research, discussions with the board and invaluable feedback from stakeholders, this move underscores our determination to evolving AFM to meet today's industry needs," Epstein said.

"The industry has called for a fresh look at how the market can better serve a rapidly changing business," Epstein said. "The board has made a monumental decision that allows us to better serve these needs."

Last year, for the first time, AFM moved its main venue from the Loews Hotel, which was undergoing major renovations, to the Le Meridien Delfina, which is embroiled in a bitter battle with Unite HERE Local 11 over stalled contract negotiations.

The AFM "had to go to another hotel where protesters were outside. I think that hurt," Brock said. "And there's no sign of that strike ending."

During the AFM last year, more than 100 noisy union protesters picketed outside Le Meridian and called for those attending the film market to boycot the hotel.

The Center for Union Facts, a hotel union watchdog, blamed the ongoing strike and the City Council's failure to act for helping to drive the film market out of Santa Monica ("Much Noise, No Action on Union Protests," September 14, 2023).

"This is a sad day for the City of Santa Monica," said Charlyce Bozzello, the communications director for the center. "Local 11 is content to feed on the city for its own benefit even if it kills it.

"The loss of this festival is also a failure of leadership by the City Council, which should have more aggressively criticized the union."

In addition, Santa Monica has made headlines after a Downtown business activist posted a "Santa Monica is Not Safe" sign on his Promenade building and a man was fatally stabbed near the Pier ("Man Fatally Stabbed at Santa Monica Beach," August 1, 2023).

Rumors the AFM would be moving circulated during the European Film Market in Berlin last month. But Santa Monica has long been concerned it could lose the market.

In 2011, the city nearly lost the event to LA Live in downtown Los Angeles, where hotel rents were lower and more plentiful ("American Film Market to Stay in Santa Monica," December 9, 2011).

But some members of IFTA, which was negotiating the deal, resisted the move, saying they didn’t want the marketplace in a “soulless space in L.A.”

The AFM extended its stay in Santa Monica through 2017, with IFTA officials citing several pending developments as weighing in favor of keeping its trade show in Santa Monica.

But some of the expected developments that AFM was counting on -- including a new AMC cinema complex on the site of a Downtown parking structure and the renovation of the Civic Auditorium -- didn't happen ("Santa Monica Working to Keep American Film Market in Town," November 7, 2013).

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