CANNES 2001: Biz Buzz -- Considering Deal-making on the Rivera
by Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE
(indieWIRE/05.23.01) -- Miramax's deal for "Tears of the Black Tiger" and
Paramount Classics' pact for Cannes closer "Les Ames Fortes" were among the headline grabbing deals signed in Cannes this year, not to mention numerous
late-Festival pacts by Sony Pictures Classics. But ask executives for their
take on the biz side of the Cannes Film Festival and you'll get as wide a
range of opinions as you do when you ask about the quality of the films
themselves. Interviewed yesterday as they began settling back into their
offices after two weeks of moviegoing on the Croisette, a handful of company
chiefs weighed in with their thoughts on this year's Festival International
"As far as I am concerned this was the best Cannes ever," Shooting Gallery's
Eamonn Bowles said. However, he was referring to the stellar sunny weather
that greeted festival attendees for the duration of the event -- only giving
way to a cool rain as stragglers flew home on Monday morning.
"Lackluster," is how Bowles summed up the 2001 Festival. "There really
wasn't a lot to see; even in the Market, I was a little disappointed."
Explaining that he was surprised by the activity of some buyers this year,
Bowles added, "In a slightly stronger market, those movies wouldn't be
picked up at all." That said, Shooting Gallery is still pursuing a few
titles, according to Bowles, but Cannes was hardly as productive for his
company as Toronto has proven in recent years.
One of the active companies this year was Sony Pictures Classics; the
distributor made five deals at the Festival and in the Cannes Market.
Sony's three attending execs -- Michael Barker, Tom Bernard and Dylan
Leiner -- nabbed Jacques Rivette's "Va Savoir!", Lieven Debrauwer's "Pauline et Paulette," John McKay's "Crush," Eric Rohmer's "L'Anglaise et le duc" and Zhang Yang's "Quitting."
"We were thrilled," Sony Classics' Co-President Tom Bernard told indieWIRE,
who said that he didn't see much competition from U.S. based buyers this
year. "The guard has changed," Bernard jabbed, adding that the acquisitions
execs at some of the younger companies "do not have a sense of the market or
the marketing -- they did not go after some of the pictures."
One buyer who has been in the business for awhile is Zeitgeist Co-President
Nancy Gerstman. "I had a good time this year," she told indieWIRE.
Commenting on the Festival in general Gerstman said, "I don't think I have
ever been to a festival where people are so uniformly so excited about the
films." She continued, "At Cannes...you just don't know what you are walking
into; it's really exciting just for that, just as a cinephile. As a distributor, we just watch and wait."
"The expectation is so great," Gerstman cautioned, "I don't think that it
could ever meet people's expectations."
The smaller companies, like Zeitgeist, have to sit back until the dust
settles after a festival like Cannes. Larger, or at least well-financed
companies -- typically the specialized divisions of the studios -- go to
the Festival with the ability to make deals on the spot.
"We're not buying anything during the festival," Cowboy Booking Co-
President Noah Cowan told indieWIRE. "Cannes is absolutely the most
important place to see new cinema, especially international cinema," Cowan
offered. For Cowboy, the Festival, like Berlin or Toronto, is an important
place to network and lay the groundwork for deals that will happen after
"We get more done in an afternoon at the Grand Terrace than we do the rest
of the year," Cowan added. "We seem to meet everybody there." But, he
explained, "There was weaker work by established directors and few
discoveries from first time filmmakers."
"This was not a strong year in Cannes," Cowan did admit yesterday. "There
was slim pickings in terms of what was there to be acquired." But he
added that he and Co-President John Vanco have their eye on a couple
A key challenge that all buyers must consider is the effect of mixed reviews
on the movies that they are pursuing. "Everyone is less reflective when you
are in the hot box of festivals," Cowan explained, adding that he can be
forced to pass on a movie that he and Vanco like if the U.S. reviewers
published negative reviews out of the festival. In the cases where they go
against the critics and take a movie with bad buzz, they have to develop a
strategy to effectively re-launch it and overcome the criticism. "There was
one film in particular in Cannes that both John and I think is a wonderful
movie," Cowan said, exasperated. "But the US press kind of shit on it."
"You have to look at the big picture," Zeitgeist's Gerstman said, offering
guidance that the smaller indie companies certainly take to heart. "The more
things change, the more they stay the same -- certain types of films are
harder to pick up -- we just have to find our niche." [Eugene Hernandez]