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A year of the coronavirus — lockdowns, virtual film markets, online festivals and quarantined sets — has left its mark. While virtual Cannes was a blockbuster — with monster global deals for $50 million-plus indie packages, including The Blacksmith (Nick Jonas and Laurence Fishburne), Ferrari (Hugh Jackman) and Armageddon Time (Oscar Isaac, Robert De Niro and Cate Blanchett) — challenges in financing and producing under COVID-19, a continued uncertainty over theatrical’s future and a backlog of finished but unreleased movies has put a damper on presales. AFM in November was marked by caution. A strong Sundance — with big deals for films like Jockey (Sony Pictures Classics), Passing (Netflix) and the record $25 million that Apple TV+ paid for Coda — suggests buyers would prefer to cherry-pick finished films rather than guess what an in-development project today might be worth when it comes out in a few years’ time.
“There’s also the question: When cinemas reopen, what will people want to see? Depressing dramas or feel-good art house? No one knows,” says Dirk Schuerhoff of Germany’s Beta Cinema. For the moment, increased VOD sales — to new streamers like HBO Max and Disney+ — has helped balance a falloff in theatrical. “We had ‘just’ a 20 percent drop in revenue last year thanks to streaming,” notes Schuerhoff.
Adds Mark Gooder of Cornerstone: “Berlin is going to be a litmus test. A lot of buyers who pre-bought in Cannes last year thought they’d have full slates by now, but many of these films haven’t gone into production. The question now is: Will they be gun-shy or will they be willing to keep buying?”
While there are a few strong packages on offer at Berlin 2021, expect much of the business to be for the handful of buzzy titles screening across the festival’s official program, with work from art house darlings (Céline Sciamma, Hong Sang-soo, Claire Denis) among the hottest titles.
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Representation in Hollywood
Red Sea Film Festival