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This seaside market specializes in fresh new movies

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Joshua Peck is a man with a movie. Better yet, in a place where he is just one of many moviemakers, he has an old college chum whom he believes is in the industry. In hope of locating the buddy, he has come with his yet-to-be-completed film to the American Film Market (AFM) in Santa Monica, Calif. And, still better yet, he has found his schoolmate and made the critical contact.

Joshua Peck: "You think you might be interested in my film, 'Venice Beach?' "

Old friend, Josh Piezas: "Maybe. Need to know more. Come back later."

On such slim promises, futures are made, and more specifically, in Mr. Peck's case, a million-dollar film.

Modest deals such as the possible Josh-Joshua collaboration are plentiful here at the AFM, as are the multimillion-dollar contracts that will bring some of the industry's top films to markets all over the world. Upwards of 7,000 filmmakers and buyers worldwide (from an unprecedented 71 countries this year), gather annually at this seaside event to pitch and be pitched to at what could best be described as "the green-eyeshade version" of the Cannes Film Festival.

Here, in the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, a vast rabbit warren of rooms off a central atrium aren't smoke-filled (think Evian water instead) but do host parades of the industry's biggest and smallest dealmakers. By the end of today, organizers estimate, some $400 million in movie deals will have been made.

The biggest news this year, according to industry observers and participants, is the cautious return of the so-called independent film. While "independent" can mean many things to many people, managing director Jonathan Wolf notes that the AFM definition means simply that at least 50 percent of the financial risk is borne by some group other than one of the big seven Hollywood studios.

The major studios have blurred the definition of independent over the years by adding in-house art divisions such as Fox Searchlight, he says.

"The studios like the cachet of being considered an 'indie,' but really all they are is 'artie,' " he explains.

"What is 'independent' anymore?" says Ehud Bleiberg, chairman of Dream Entertainment Inc., a truly independent production and distribution company. He responds to his own query by saying, "We do it all. We produce, we market, we sell [movies] internationally." The only part of the movie business Dream isn't involved in is domestic distribution.

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