With all the talk about the struggles facing movies made beyond the clutches of Hollywood, Wild Bunch is doing just fine. The French sales company is one of the most prominent entities at the Cannes Film Festival each year. It often handles some of the buzziest films at the festival, including many Palme d’Or winners, from “Blue is the Warmest Color” to “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days.” Regular directors in its stable of auteurs include the Dardenne brothers, Ken Loach, and Jean-Luc Godard.
Much like Cannes itself, the company’s survival is a striking contrast to questions about whether arthouse movies driven by singular visions can survive a risk-averse marketplace. A week before the 2018 edition of the festival, Wild Bunch co-founder and veteran sales agent Vincent Maraval addressed many of the more prominent issues percolating through Cannes discussions this year: a selection low on star wattage, clashes with Netflix, the impact of #MeToo and the number of women directors in competition, as well as the fallout of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Maraval also touched on highlights from the current Wild Bunch slate, which once again contains some of the most anticipated films in competition.
What do you make of this year’s Cannes lineup as a whole?
It’s very exciting for once to have films where we don’t have an idea about them. I hope that the feeling is that it’s going to be smaller, which is something we’d love. Little by little, it’s going to be more of a cinephile event than a circus show. I have a feeling that this is what they want. They want to come back to the roots of Cannes, which is more world cinephiles meeting in Cannes than a pure media event, like the Olympics or the World Cup. It would be good to go back to that, even if they’re still showing “Solo” or whatever.
How has the market for films in the program changed?
I think the biggest thing for sales at the festival is to have the chance to test a film with an audience. Usually, it’s a selection of the best. Most of the buyers have a choice of like 500 premieres at Cannes [including the market] and they have time to watch, let’s say, 20. So of course being in the Official Selection helps narrow down the choices. That, for me, is the most important thing. Everything else, the grand events, are for us more pollution than any help for the market.
How do you feel about the Cannes market these days?
It’s still the biggest market of the year. I don’t know about every company, but we do half of our year of work in Cannes. Today, there’s no more market in Venice. It’s totally dead. Berlin is more of a pre-sales market for Cannes titles. But there is no a real market for the films screening in Berlin because they’re so much smaller. There is still a market at Sundance, but only for a very specific type of film that doesn’t export itself. It’s a domestic market. American independent films are not working at the specialty box office worldwide, especially Sundance type of films. It’s a very strong domestic market.
Cannes Film Festival
Toronto is a mix of the domestic market at Sundance and Cannes, but I have a feeling that Toronto is doing the same as Cannes — trying to be smaller — and the market has started to shrink. Once again, we can feel a split between the domestic and the international. The domestic is looking for certain types of films while the international is looking for a totally different type of film.
How would you say the state of filmmaking worldwide is reflected at these markets?
More and more, we can tell that there are three type of categories in international cinema: The local productions, doing better and better; the American blockbuster, staying solid and very powerful; and the indie corner, which is more about world cinema than the American indie cinema.
How do you think the market for world cinema has changed in the U.S.?
I think we’re in a transitional period. We’re no longer in that period where people like Miramax, Focus, and Sony are fighting for foreign language films or Indies. I think all the American indie films are more for streaming platforms and there are no more real players trying to make Oscar winners. Or, they’re making them in-house. The international cinema is probably now becoming pure VOD platform stuff. Netflix is buying a lot, but traditional distributors aren’t buying foreign language films. IFC is buying fewer films than before. Sony Classics keeps solid in its own business. But Focus hasn’t bought a foreign language film for a long time. Amazon probably does one per year. I think the foreign language corner is just becoming something you find on a VOD platform for an American audience.
What sort of impact have streaming platforms had on sales?
Netflix is probably the number one client of local cinema for foreign sales. It’s probably the biggest client for French cinema, even if the French don’t really welcome them. It’s the same for the Spanish and Italian films.
From your perspective, is that a good thing?
Of course. The thing is, both systems [streaming and theatrical] should live in parallel with each other. One shouldn’t be taking the business out of the other, and I don’t think they are, technically. If you decide to watch a foreign language film in the cinema it’s because you’ve decided to go out of your home, and if you’ve decided to watch 20 films on your iPad, it’s because you don’t want to go out. I don’t think you decide not to see a foreign film in the cinema because you have 20 available at home. I just think that this means there is a wider access to foreign language cinema for a bigger audience. For me, it’s positive.
How do you feel about the way the Netflix-versus-Cannes situation played out in public, with Netflix pulling its titles from the festival after Cannes banned them from competition?
It’s stupid for both of them. It was the French exhibitors who started that fight. They started that fight with no legitimacy. There was nothing wrong except that they weren’t welcoming to an American company. That’s the root of the problem. It’s America, we hate them, we don’t want them to come into our market. It’s a kind of fear that’s basically the same as the fear of immigrants: “We don’t want them at home.”
But a movie like “Okja” was distributed theatrically on a large number of screens and it is a cinematic film. I would like to know if, at the Venice Film Festival, if a French film doesn’t have a theatrical distributor so it can’t be released, how many French films would be in Venice? So it’s a pure nationalistic thing, and it’s stupid. It started with mainly exhibitors from big chains. They never show foreign language films; they’d never show Bong Joon-ho’s films in their theaters. They’d probably show the World Cup match or some operas.
So it’s a kind of monopolistic reaction from a big group that doesn’t want to question its monopoly. It’s stupid to have refused films from Netflix at Cannes that are going to be released in their own countries. Alfonso Cuaron’s film is going to be released in the U.S. and should’ve qualified at Cannes. Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind” restoration, there is no question, that should have played at Cannes. I would like see Pathé or another theater show that film. Basically, Netflix was the victim at the beginning of this, a victim of people with a stupid reflect to protect themselves.
But after that, I think Netflix saying, “We won’t give our films to Cannes anymore” is as stupid as the exhibitors. It’s very easy to say to exhibitors, “If you were really supporting cinema, you could defend your position. But you don’t support cinema, you support the sales. You live on the back of cinema.” That’s an easy debate to support. Now, I think Netflix has put itself in a position of being the bad one. I think this will be fixed quickly because there is no reason it needs to be like this.
How does this impact your sales at Cannes?
It doesn’t. If we generate a film we want to sell to Netflix, we can always say we did after the Cannes press conference, and people will go crazy.
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