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June 10, 2002 2:00 AM
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WORLD CINEMA REPORT: Post-Cannes Hangover Continues; The Long Business of Selling

WORLD CINEMA REPORT: Post-Cannes Hangover Continues; The Long Business of Selling



by Anthony Kaufman



(indieWIRE: 06.10.02) -- Cannes 2002 may be long gone in the public's eye, but the business of the festival is far from over. It's been two weeks since they rolled away the red carpet and closed the Grand Palais, but there are still plenty of films up for grabs. Big winners from France ("The Pianist") and Finland ("A Man without a Past") sold quickly to mini-majors after their respective prizes, but what about the other winners, little-known gems and auteur pieces that have yet to lock U.S. distribution deals? "There are still plenty of films out there," says Samuel Goldwyn's Tom Quinn, currently in negotiations for a few Cannes titles. "Now, it's festival flashback, the period after the festival where you hope people have forgotten about some of these good films."


While Elia Suleiman's "Divine Intervention" received the third place jury prize and the international FIPRESCI critic's prize for best picture, this satiric dry comedy about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will certainly take more time to find a sensitive U.S. buyer. More imminent, surely, is the acquisition of Ken Loach's British working class comeback "Sweet Sixteen," which received the best screenplay away for Paul Laverty's story of a down and out 15 year old. And who will step up to the plate for "Japon," the critically lauded Camera d'Or honorable mention from Mexico? Or Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's "The Son," whose lead actor Olivier Gourmet -- playing a carpenter who seeks to understand his son's murderer -- won the festival's best actor honors?


Small distributors apt at handling such delicate or challenging films often do their business back in the U.S. anyway, rather than amidst the over-inflated price tags found in Cannes proper. "It would be really difficult to make a deal at the festival for us, because expectations are very high, and the money is somewhat unrealistic," says Nancy Gerstman, co-president (with Emily Russo) of Zeitgeist Films, which is currently pursuing a few titles. Always on the look out for niche pictures such as former Cannes entries like "Downtown 81" and "My Sex Life ... or How I Got Into An Argument," Gerstman takes a wait-and-see approach. "We're careful and we take our time," she says, "but not too much time, because we have a lot of competition right now."


And competition on the Croisette is especially fierce. Gerstman doesn't even bother seeing films that are in the running with other distributors, "because we really can't compete," she says. "You can't really blame the sales agents," continues Gerstman, referring to the companies responsible for setting such high prices. "There's always the possibility that someone is going to spend a lot of money and they want to wait for them."


This sales agent strategizing has likely delayed the acquisitions of such high profile films as David Cronenberg's psychological mindbender "Spider" (being sold by London-based Capitol Films), Shane Meadow's spaghetti western "Once Upon a Time in the Midlands" (being sold by major British outfit FilmFour), and French provocations like Gaspar Noe's "Irreversible" and Olivier Assayas' "Demonlover," both being sold by Gallic sales powerhouse Wild Bunch.


Many of these titles could go unsold until the fall, according to industry insiders, where a whole new batch of films will reach the market at Toronto and Venice and reduce the Cannes slate's value. While the above titles represent the commercial end of the arthouse market, even more aesthetically rigorous films face inflated prices their first time out. Competing offers are still on the table for everything from Alecsandr Sokurov's 90-minute single-take history lesson "Russian Ark" to "Ratcatcher" director Lynne Ramsay's stunner "Movern Callar," starring Samantha Morton.


Though Cowboy Pictures acquired New Zealand director Harry Sinclair's "Toy Love" during the festival's final days, Cowboy president John Vanco says such a deal is rare for the small company. "It is uncommon for us, because all the sales agents have to ensure that they're not going to get the home-run six-figure deal from a mini-major." he says, "They have to exhaust that possibility first." Vanco is currently pursuing a few other films, either that he saw at the festival or that arrived at his office on tape. "Everybody is a lot more relaxed now," he says, of the post-Cannes period. "It's much easier for everybody to focus now on what's pertinent."


Outside of the sun-drenched fever pitch of the festival, distributions can now give more careful thought to those small discoveries in the Cannes' sidebar sections that have received strong trade reviews, such as Critics Week FIPRESCI award-winner "The Clay Bird," Argentine director Pablo Trapero's "El Bonaerense," a follow-up to his festival hit "Crane World," Benedicte Lienard's powerful French entry "A Piece of Sky," starring Severine Caneele, winner of Cannes' best actress prize for "Humanite," and Hany Abu-Assad's "Rana's Wedding," a trenchant, hopeful look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the story of one woman's rush to get married.


"There is so much catch-up after Cannes," Vanco says. "It's such an immense gathering of films, all in different phases of their lifecycle. For the mini-majors, there's a lot of work to do before the festival. All my work is after the festival when the smoke clears."

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