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Climate Change at Cannes, Where Pre-Buys Reign

Climate Change at Cannes, Where Pre-Buys Reign

While a slate of fascinating movies will be unspooling for critics and cinephiles, many will never see the light of day stateside. Finally, it doesn’t really matter which prizes are awarded by the jury headed by Joel and Ethan Coen—including actors Sophie Marceau, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sienna Miller and Rossy DePalma, directors Guillermo del Toro and Xavier Dolan, and world music star Rokia Traore. Did it make a difference that Julianne Moore and Timothy Spall took home acting prizes last year? Nope.

Why the changed landscape? Where there used to be a glut of films that could not possibly find distribution homes, there are now far more players and options. Since last year, the Cannes marche has morphed from one favoring too few buyers to a more competitive seller’s market.

The question is, who is buying what?

Some bigger players like the studios, Lionsgate, new buyer STX, Dimension and Focus will be chasing more mainstream genre fare and pre-buys from screenings of footage and films at the market. There’s also possible specialty fare, from hot docs like Lucy Walker’s “Buena Vista Social Club-Adios,” “Steve McQueen: The Man and Le Mans,” and Ron Howard’s authorized Beatles documentary, to Michael Grandage’s adaptation of A. Scott Berg’s biography of editor-to-the-literary-stars Max Perkins, “Genius,” starring Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jude Law and Guy Pearce, Tom Tykwer’s “Hologram for the King,” starring Tom Hanks as a businessman in the Middle East, “The Lunchbox” director Ritesh Batra’s “The Sense of an Ending,” Broadway playwright Nick Payne’s adaptation of Julian Barnes’ Booker Prize-winning novel starring Jim Broadbent, Emma Thompson-Daniel Bruhl World War II drama “Alone in Berlin” and “Elvis & Nixon,” starring Kevin Spacey. (Weinstein Co. did buy “The Imitation game” off a reel at Berlin.) 

But the art house market is still small and challenged. Theatrical releasing now favors the studio subsidiaries with output deals around the world, like Sony Pictures Classics and Fox Searchlight, which picked up Paolo Sorrentino’s second English language film “Youth,” set in the classic music world, starring Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel. This sounds like a movie that could play for the older demo (read Academy). Focus is no longer identified with that market except for the odd Working Title film, while new distributor Bleecker Street (with ex-Focus execs at the helm) is in the hunt for titles aimed at just that age-range. 

The hotter titles are getting scooped up ahead of the festival, while others will have to wait for audience and critic reaction.

The new martial arts film from Hou Hasiao-hsien, “The Assassin” has been nabbed by genre distributor Well Go USA.

Who’s going to have the balls to pick up Gasper Noe’s erotic taboo-buster “Love”—which Wild Bunch’s Maraval has been hyping with a Hard-R poster of a woman with her hand around a man’s spent penis? (Yes, “Fifty Shades of Grey” was a hit, but it was strictly R-rated.)

And who will grab Joachim Trier’s English-language debut  “Louder than Bombs,” starring Gabriel Byrne and Jesse Eisenberg, or Natalie Portman’s $4 million Hebrew adaptation of Amos Oz’s memoir “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” which debuts out of competition? The Israel-born actress wrote and directed and will be available to promote it— she stars as the young Oz’s mother who dies young —but that doesn’t change what it is. CAA and Voltage are selling rights at Cannes. Gus van Sant’s competition entry “Sea of Trees” also awaits a US distributor, though Entertainment One scooped it out of Berlin for Canada, Australia and the UK.

 Some North American distributors have little intention of picking up a Cannes title unless it’s a real awards contender. And most of those are spoken for. Among the known players at Cannes, Harvey Weinstein has two major high-profile films in competition, Todd Haynes’ period drama “Carol,” starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, and Justin Kurzel’s “Macbeth,” starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Both have good advance buzz and Oscar potential. Weinstein will put on his usual dog-and-pony show at Cannes for press.

Weinstein still has an appetite for big pickups if they are Oscar-worthy, from “The Pianist” to “The Artist,” which he grabbed in Paris from Wild Bunch before the 2011 festival. But he’s less likely to pick up the garden variety foreign-language movie, which remains a hard sell stateside. Tom Quinn’s TWC-Radius is also chasing acquisition titles. 

Sony Pictures Classics is releasing Woody Allen’s “Irrational Man,” starring Joaquin Phoneix and Emma Stone, but won’t be handling press on the film there; the French are running the show. Allen and his cast will be there to walk the red steps and do a press conference, per usual. SPC’s Michael Barker, Tom Bernard and Dylan Leiner always cast a wide net among the possible gems in the festival and market, especially possible foreign-language Oscar contenders. VOD/theatrical players Roadside Attractions, IFC and Magnolia are also in that universe. 

Will indie buyers CBS Films, A24, beefed up Broad Green, and revamped Alchemy find traction in Cannes? And what about new film players like Amazon’s indie producer Ted Hope, prepping a slate of new films for 2105, and Netflix, which has been competing outright with distributors with deeper pockets? It laid out $12 million for Cary Fukunaga’s “Beasts with No Nation,” which did not get into the festival.

We shall soon see. 

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