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The Final Word: Cannes '98 Biz Mop-Up -- Indiewood on the Croisette

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire June 1, 1998 at 2:0AM

The Final Word: Cannes '98 Biz Mop-Up -- Indiewood on the Croisette
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The Final Word: Cannes '98 Biz Mop-Up -- Indiewood on the Croisette

by Eugene Hernandez




Over the course of the last month, a Soho loft space has become a vibrant
new forum for the indiefilm community to share information and exchange
ideas. FILM BYTES, a live Friday night Internet show, broadcast on the
Pseudo Online Network, features a weekly roundtable discussion between
an assortment of indie-minded folks. Since its launch on this spring, the
program has already welcomed: Anthology Film Archive's Jonas Mekas, Good
Machine
's Mary Jane Skalski, Film Forum's Karen Cooper, film booker Jeffrey
Jacobs, producer Gill Holland, producer Lydia Pilcher, Women Make Movies'
Debra Zimmerman, as well as filmmakers Lisa Cholodenko "High Art", Marc
Levin ("Slam"), and Bill Plympton ("I Married a Strange Person").


On Friday, a group gathered in the studio to discuss the business of the
1998 Cannes Film Festival during a program sponsored by co-hosted by
indieWIRE. Sony Pictures Classics acquisitions v.p. Dylan Leiner joined
Screen International's Colin Brown, the Hollywood Reporter's Dana Harris,
indieWIRE Features Editor Anthony Kaufman, and host Ted Lambert to reflect
on the Festival.


Cannes first-timers Kaufman and Harris expressed surprise at the overall
lack of major business activity on the Croisette. A feeling that has been
echoed by many since the festival closed a week ago, but a claim that would
be dismissed by Leiner later in the show. "A lot of people were
disappointed
with the market and the films this year," Kaufman explained "Most of the
deals that were announced -- the majority came from films that were not
a part of the festival." Harris, who covers the international beat for the
Reporter, agreed wholeheartedly adding, "It was suprisingly quiet." As
an example of the affect that the lack of business activity had on her own
publication's coverage, Harris explained, "When we go to cover Cannes we
go into Cannes with 75 stories already written, and this year we were
particlautaly grateful for that advanced coverage because it got really
tough towards the end -- to make sure that we had a banner story for each
day -- because the news simply wasn't there."


Prodded to explain the changes at Cannes and how they relate to the
overall business climate, Harris offered, "My sense is thats its indicative
of a trend in the industry in terms of the way business is being done -- I
don't think you're going to see as much in the way of the high powered
activity," she continued, "With the death of the video market -- video
brought in so much more of a playing field, so much more easy money and
a nice safety net -- that simply doesn't exist anymore, the video market
is completely mature."


As the Cannes discussion began to shift slightly, one issue raised by
Lambert is the actual value of the Cannes Palme d'Or in the domestic
marketplace. Harris stated flatly, "The Palme d'Or in terms of marketing
means absolutely nothing." In fact, as Harris explained, the issue is
connected in a larger way to the declining successes for foreign films
in America, even when that film is a Cannes winner. In a domestic
pipeline crowded by American independent work, Harris stated "It has
nothing to do with festival awards, it has everything to do with star
power, and there are a few select films that are driven by reviews
that can dodge that bullet."


Summing up business activity before welcoming Sony's Leiner into
the mix, Harris explained that, contrary to its often reserved business
approach, Sony Pictures Classics "had a small field day" -- buying
numerous films for American distribution. And responding to a point
made by Kaufman who said that execs at Cannes were telling him that
buying was down due to high asking prices, Harris agreed, explaining,
"I think that's one of the thing's that's going on with 'The General'," John
Boorman's Cannes entry which is rumored to be going to SPC. "Sony
Pictures is known for not spending a lot of money on their films," Harris
explained, "They're definitely a player, but one of the ways they make
they're money is they focus on smaller independent films that they can
afford to make some money back on -- they're not showy like Miramax
can be sometimes."


Asked point blank about his company's negotiations for "The General",
Dylan Leiner coyly responded, "I don't know anything about it." But
reflecting on the broader business scene he offered, "Everyone said it
was a very slow marketplace, for us it was a very active marketplace
and a very productive markteplace. The Cannes Film Festival has only
changed in as much as the buyers who go their have changed -- its really
as you all talk about often, and is part of the dialogue that we're all
having
these days -- its sort of the Hollywood-ization of the independent film
world and of the specialty film world. Its people and its companies going
to Cannes and being interested in making talent deals and in putting
together production deals, and sort of shifting their focus away from the
niche industry which is still very lucrative and very positive and a place
to find new filmmakers, and to foster relationships."


Asked if the busy Cannes business scene indicated some sort of shift
for Sony, Leiner stated, "I sincerely feel that our focus hasn't shifted
much, we're becoming more aggresive and more daring in the types of
films that we're acquiring but we're not interested in getting into the
three picture deal business, nor are we intersted in signing novelists
or signing writers, or geting involved with development, we're interested
in producers and directors who are talented and who want a good service
organization behind them."


Wrapping up the wrap-up show was nine-time Cannes attendee Colin
Brown, the U.S. Editor for Screen International, offered a bit of
perspective
on what some considered a disappointing business-scene in France, "Its
weird because they said the same thing last year. Last year was supposed
to be the worst Cannes ever, but four of the films went on to really
successful lives -- "L.A. Confidential", "The Sweet Hearafter", "The
Ice Storm
", and "Nil by Mouth"), none of which really leapt up from the
festival but had lives afterwards, and I suspect that this year will
be the same."


"I always slightly sorry for Cannes," Brown continued, "Its blamed for
other people miseries -- a lot of people spend a lot of money to get
there -- and if it doesnt live up to the hype, the expectation, then
immediately there's a chorus of 'Boy was this Cannes bad'. I actually
felt there was an attempt to 'out Sundance' Sundance," he relayed,
"The selections were very --i use the word, "harcore" -- the topics
were hardly commercial. What was it, the Holocaust, pedophilia, incest,
prostitution. I think they deciced 'Well what are we going to do, Sundance
has sort of taken the higher ground artistically'. They decided to be much
more selective and auteurist this year."