CANNES 2001: Little Giants; 2001 Market Sees Big Buzz for Small Films
by Sydney Levine
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FilmFour's set up inside the sprawling Cannes Market
I was asked by indieWIRE to give an international sales perspective to Cannes and to cite any trends I have noticed. While I am not usually a 'numbers person,' it is numbers that I am citing in this article as a way to spot trends aside from such observations as I have already read, like the films in Directors Fortnight tend toward dark relationships.
This Cannes sees the preponderance of the small. With the exception of "Moulin Rouge," Fox's grand opening night movie, the films which are generating the most advance interest are the smaller international films which take daring to acquire, and leave U.S. acquisitions executives feeling anxious about finding product their companies will get behind.
A promising development is Miramax's new international cinema series, which openly is following the path blazed by the Shooting Gallery Film Series ("Croupier," "Judy Berlin," etc.). This has been a real morale booster at Miramax, because now the acquisitions execs can go after the "small gems that they love," which they never had a place before ("not big enough"), but which now will have a home.
Jeff Lipsky's Lot 47, Offline and Code Red, new U.S. distributors of small, edgy films are doing quite well. Continuing their look out for small quality films selectively are Sande Zeig's Artistic License, New Yorker Films, Zeitgeist, Phaedra and Madstone's digital distribution network, represented in Cannes by former New Yorker acquisition exec Susan Wrubel. Gay distributors Picture This!, Strand and Jour de Fete also remain active.
Of the ninety-one films in the festival Competition, Un Certain Regard, Semaine de la Critique and Directors Fortnight, only 17 have U.S. distribution (four are Fine Line, two Miramax, two MGM/ UA, and one each for Sony Pictures Classics, Warner Bros., USA Films, New Yorker, Lions Gate, Fox Searchlight, Dreamworks, Artisan, and 20th Century Fox.) Many of these above companies have been in Paris the past two weeks attending Directors Fortnight and Semaine preview screenings, on the look out to add to their acquisitions. The scandal of these pre-Cannes screenings occurred around New Zealand entry "Rain," when a group of top U.S. acquisitions executives obtained the disagreeable distinction of being rudely ejected at the door of the private screening room in the Paris suburb Neuilly Sur Seine by the husband (a principal in France distributor ARD) of the French co-producer. Those turned away were from Miramax, Paramount, New Line, USA Films, Amuse of Japan and Film Finders.
Internationally, Hengameh Panahi's Celluloid Dreams, which launched several years ago as a small French-Iranian film sales agency, has eleven films up for sale in the various sidebars of Cannes, with an Albanian film, "Slogans," taking the solid lead in advance buzz. Panahi's slate comes from Japan, France, Israel, India, Kazakhstan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Albania, Ivory Coast and Bulgaria.
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Lot 47's Danae Kokenos and Jeff Lipsky, checking out their email inside the Cannes Market
Wild Bunch is another recently created sales agent with a great international slate of films, headed up by competition entries like Jean-Luc Godard's "Eloge de L'Amour," Nanni Moretti's "The Son's Room," and Hirokazu Kore-Eda's "Distance." Wild Bunch began as Studio Canal's 'arthouse' arm, but have established their own niche and have ten films in the various parts of the festival coming from Kirghistan, France, Japan, Iran, Italy and one from the U.S. (Abel Ferraro's "RXmas" which is opening night of Un Certain Regard and was, in fact, originally a Studio Canal film, but moved over to Wild Bunch with the Vivendi Universal merger). There are four films from Canada, three of which are international co-productions, a trend that U.S. filmmakers are shut out from as the country has no co-production treaties as do Canada and the European countries.
Also worth watching are innovative films from sales companies Flach Pyramide ("The Rehearsal," " Warm Water Under a Bridge") and Fortissimo ("Millennium Mambo," "What Time is it Over There?"), the latter of which brought Chinese films to the world stage. The Coproduction Office, based in Berlin, which launched years before with "Breaking the Waves," has also established itself as one to watch; they're selling "Lovely Rita" in Un Certain Regard this year, an Austrian German coproduction. First Hand Films' line-up, including Germany's "The State I Am In," is gaining a certain prominence as well. Another international sales company with savvy is Overseas Film Group, which has a hot buzz film in the market, Don Boyd's UK co-production "My Kingdom," with Richard Harris.
Some U.S. filmmakers are smart enough to know about co-production possibilities and how to tap into sources of international financing. Oddly enough, they seem to all come from New York (Jim Stark, Christine Vachon, Ted Hope and James Schamus, Scott McGehee, Jason Kliot and Joanna Vicente, to name the most proficient). This year, Ted Hope and Christine Vachon have two films each in the festival, "Human Nature" and "Chelsea Walls" (being repped by John Sloss's Cinetic Media) respectively, and "Storytelling" which they both produced. Scott McGehee and David Siegel have "The Deep End" in the festival. Elie Samaha with Sean Penn's "The Pledge" is the only west coast producer with international co-production smarts (Intertainment!).
International trends are also strong in the area of splitting rights. Whereas previous years have seen major studios splitting rights, now independent sales agents such as Summit, Miramax, Good Machine, and Germany's Kinowelt are splitting rights, taking English language rights or Eastern European rights or splitting off Asian rights with strategic partners. Pathe UK and Film Four split rights in the U.K. So overall, deals are becoming more complex and varied.
And what do acquisitions executives do when there are no completed films to nab: search for those films yet to be completed. Always of interest are small discoveries handled by British sales agents Film Four International, The Sales Company, Pathe and Renaissance or the French MK2 and UGC who have few completed films at this year's festival. The larger sales agents' also have a tremendous amount of product in the pipeline. From Film Finders' database, Miramax, for instance, has 46 unannounced films (aside from many more which have been announced but are not on the market yet). Of the announced films not yet ready to screen, four are in post and seven are in production.
At this year's Cannes festival begins, my summation is that the U.S.'s position as a major force is being assailed by coalitions of smaller groups. The prevalence of U.S. product on the world market is being challenged in always original and unforeseen ways, which continue to make independents the most interesting of all filmmakers and film sellers. The fact that a small Albanian political satire is one of the stronger buzz films to date speaks volumes.
[Sydney Levine is the President of Film Finders.]