Cannes: Amazon, STX Trigger Fest's Power Shift

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Amazon Studios party at the Cannes Film Festival

The old guard has given way to the new as major moves by upstarts have pushed more established players onto the sidelines.

The 2016 Cannes film market is drawing to a close with few blockbuster deals. But as studio-sized indies and online-streaming giants stake their claim on the global market, there's a sense that this year marked a power shift in the industry.

STX Entertainment and Focus Features used Cannes to fully roll out their ambitious international strategies, while Amazon, which screened five films in Cannes' offi‘cial selection, and Netflix, which kept a lower profile during the fest, both scooped up titles in headline-catching deals.

Bob Simonds' STX won a heated bidding war for the biggest projects in the market, paying an estimated $50 million for foreign rights to Martin Scorsese's mob picture The Irishman, starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino (Paramount already had domestic rights to the $100 million project). Universal, Fox and IM Global also were pursuing internationally, but the old guard lost out to Simonds' newcomer.

STX also made the first big-money deal in Cannes with its $9 million buy of U.S. and Chinese rights to Molly's Game, which stars Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba and marks Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut.

"Buyers are looking for great scripts from talented artists from companies who know they are going to be able to deliver," says Sierra/A‘ffinity CEO Nick Meyer, who is handling international rights on the drama, which revolves around a high-stakes international poker game.

For its part, Focus made its presence felt by throwing a party that introduced the company's upcoming slate, including the animated film Kubo and the Two Strings and Jeff Nichols' interracial marriage drama Loving. Last year, Focus landed Cannes' biggest deal, a $20 million purchase of worldwide rights to Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals. This time around, it nabbed the most major international territories for American Honey, taking Andrea Arnold's Shia LaBeouf starrer in the U.K., Germany, Spain, Italy, Scandinavia and Australia/New Zealand. In Berlin, Focus snatched up two other Cannes competition titles: Julieta and Loving.

Amazon, which boasted five films screening as official selections, was guaranteed top billing in Cannes this year. But the streaming giant added to the buzz with a pair of multimillion-dollar deals, taking North American rights on Mike Leigh's upcoming period drama Peterloo and Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here, starring Joaquin Phoenix (beating out A24 in the process). On Wednesday, Amazon unveiled that it had partnered with Cohen Media Group on a deal for competition entry The Salesman from foreign-language film Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi.

The latest from the Iranian director (A Separation) follows a young couple forced out of its apartment in Tehran. The partners find themselves linked to the previous tenant of their new home.

"It's obvious, but Amazon is pretty active in this specialized market, and they're really aggressive," says David Kosse, international president at STX.

A24 isn't going home empty-handed, nabbing U.S. rights to the Andrew Garfield starrer Under the Silver Lake and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, with Colin Farrell.

And Sony Pictures Classics, which appears to be the most obvious victim of Amazon's brashness, landed two films for its own slate: Paul Verhoeven's French-language Elle and the German-language Toni Erdmann — both playing in competition.

Even The Weinstein Co., which has been quiet on the festival circuit for some time, plunked down mid-seven figures for North American rights to the Jeremy Renner-Elizabeth Olsen drama Wind River.

Sundance Selects, always active at the market, took U.S. rights to Ken Loach's I, Daniel Blake, while The Orchard nabbed North American rights to Pablo Larrain's Spanish-language film Neruda. Still unclaimed but expected to sell for at least mid-seven figures is Larrain's Natalie Portman starrer Jackie.

"The market is limited in terms of movies that people are fighting and scampering over," says Bloom's Alex Walton, who launched Martin Zandvliet's The Outsider, starring Jared Leto and set in post-World War II Japan, and Scott Cooper's Hostiles, starring Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike.

And perhaps that "limited" descriptor was particularly fitting for this Cannes market.

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The Biggest Market Projects: Where Are They Now?

There's no place like Cannes when it comes to splashy announcements about ambitious film projects with big stars and even royalty. Here's a look back at a trio of projects that remain in limbo.

Spinning Gold
In 2013, Justin Timberlake turned up at Cannes to help announce Spinning Gold, a biopic in which he'd star as infamous record executive Neil Bogart. Sales and financing outfit Foresight Unlimited still lists the project on its slate, but there's no director.

Royal Ice
Sales and production company Aldamisa Entertainment had no trouble grabbing headlines at last year's Cannes when announcing Royal Ice, an account of Prince Albert's quest to form Monaco's first Olympic bobsledding team. A year later, the project still appears to be on ice.

Tiger's Curse
Lotus Entertainment held a party with a real tiger for foreign buyers when announcing plans to adapt the first in a series of best-selling novels by Colleen Houck about a white tiger named Ren. Lotus continued shopping the project to Cannes last year, but so far the Tiger has yet to reveal itself.

Pamela McClintock contributed to this report.

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