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Cannes Watch: Rocky Indie Terrain

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood April 30, 2009 at 6:28AM

There's considerable uncertainty heading toward Cannes this year. While the global theatrical market is strong, the indie sector is still fragile--and shrinking. With DVDs sinking and piracy on the rise, financeers and foreign sales agents don't know what's safe anymore. Many companies had coasted on funds they had already raised, but now reality is sinking in: new money is hard to find.
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Cannes

There's considerable uncertainty heading toward Cannes this year. While the global theatrical market is strong, the indie sector is still fragile--and shrinking. With DVDs sinking and piracy on the rise, financeers and foreign sales agents don't know what's safe anymore. Many companies had coasted on funds they had already raised, but now reality is sinking in: new money is hard to find.

The WSJ paints a dire picture of the foreign sales market:


The rise of copyright piracy and increasing competition from local films have held a lid on presales of foreign rights in recent years. But since the credit crunch hit Wall Street and expanded across the globe, producers say they feel lucky if presales cover half of their budgets -- if anything at all.


UPDATE: Screen's Mike Goodridge counters that all is not lost in foreign pre-sales:


Like every other part of the film business, the sales world is going through a sea change. That said, for films that are cost-effectively made and marketable, nothing has changed: presales are still eminently achievable.


Anthony Kaufman in Variety describes a swiftly moving landscape for the indies:


What was once considered enduring in the sector -- the Weinsteins, a mix of active studio specialty divisions, robust DVD sales -- is no longer the case. New players (Summit, Overture) and arthouse upstarts (Oscilloscope, Regent) are making an aggressive go of it in these leaner, meaner times. If this year's Cannes marketplace reflects anything about the state of the business, it's that the industry is constantly shifting.

Whoever would have thought, for instance, that Cablevision's movie unit IFC Films -- one of the weaker distribs after Bob Berney exited in 2002 -- would eventually turn out to be Cannes' most active buyer? It snapped up a whopping 16 films out of Cannes last year for U.S. theatrical and/or VOD distribution. "It's been a gold mine for us," says IFC's Ryan Werner. "It's the most important festival of the year, without question."


While John Horn paints an even grimmer Cannes forecast in the LAT:


Many of the movies in the Cannes market this year are low-budget exploitation titles, but a fair number are filled with recognizable stars like Hilary Swank and established directors such as Peter Weir. A handful of the several dozen movies in Cannes' main showcases also are looking for American distributors, including the late Heath Ledger's “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” Rachel Weisz in “Agora” and director Ken Loach's "Looking for Eric," which features soccer superstar Eric Cantona.

Even though domestic box-office admissions are soaring, the global movie business -- particularly overseas DVD and television sales -- is slumping. International distributors can't get financing to buy movies, piracy is cutting into overseas ticket sales, foreign currencies are falling in value and key international territories have essentially discontinued acquiring American films.


Meanwhile, Focus Features International will be selling Mike Leigh's long-postponed new film in Cannes. It stars Leigh vets Jim Broadbent (Topsy-Turvy) and Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake), and since typically none of these ace improvisers know what the film will be in advance, neither do we. So far Leigh has nabbed six career Oscar noms. Focus Int. has more on its Cannes slate, including, reports Screen:


...Cannes competition entries Broken Embraces from Pedro Almodovar and Taking Woodstock by Ang Lee, and Alejandro Amenabar’s out of competition screener Agora. Kevin Macdonald’s The Eagle Of The Ninth is on the market roster, as are Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg starring Ben Stiller and Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Invention Of Lying directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson, and Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere.


UPDATE: Variety surveys the weak domestic specialty b.o so far this year.

Over at the IFC blog, David Hudson has tagged his ongoing Cannes entries.


This article is related to: Festivals, Independents, Directors, Quentin Tarantino, Weinsteins


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.