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The 74th Cannes Film Festival kicks off Tuesday, July 6, bearing the weight of expectation of the global cinema industry. The first major film festival to attempt an entirely physical market since the start of COVID-19, Cannes is being watched as the barometer of the post-pandemic bounce back of the big screen business.
Many, including most of the biggest U.S. film companies, are watching from afar. Travel restrictions and growing concerns over the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus have kept most non-European buyers away.
“We’re the only U.K. or U.S. company I know, which is taking a proper office in Cannes and coming with our full team,” says Thorsten Schumacher of Britain-based producer and sales group Rocket Science. “With all the quarantine regulations and issues in Asia, I don’t think anyone East of Bucharest will be making the trip to Cannes.”
Rocket Science has two titles in the official Cannes lineup: Sean Penn’s competition drama Flag Day — which MGM picked up for North America in a deal with CAA ahead of the festival — and Eva Husson’s Mothering Sunday starring Olivia Colman and Colin Firth, which screens in Cannes’ new Premiere Section head of its domestic bow via Sony Pictures Classics. The group also launched sales on Anthony Hines’ Robots, starring Shailene Woodley and Jack Whitehall, Todd Haynes’ Natalie Portman/Julianne Moore drama May December and on Charlotte Colbert’s psychological thriller She Will at the virtual Cannes pre-screenings market held online-only ahead of the festival.
The virtual pre-screening market already saw some big deals — including multiple pre-buys for STX’s $60 million Vin Diesel-F. Gary Gray action-comedy Muscle, MGM’s worldwide deal for Zoe Kravitz’s directorial debut Pussy Island, starring Naomi Ackie and Channing Tatum, and Miramax’s global buyout of Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers, both of which were done with Film Nation and CAA Media Finance.
Prominent action titles, including HanWay’s Everest, a Doug Liman-directed survival thriller starring Ewan McGregor, and Voltage Picture’s Renny Harlin actioner Refuge, as well as star-driven dramas — Endeavor Content’s Dakota Johnson-Sean Penn feature Daddio, Todd Solondz’s Love Child from Madriver Intl., which will feature Rachel Weisz and Colin Farrell — also generated plenty of pre-screening heat.
For the physical market, registrations have risen to almost 9,000 and should reach the usual 10,000 mark globally, according to Jerome Paillard, executive director of the Cannes Film Market. Physical attendance should hit around 6,000, or 50 percent of the 2019 record, he says.
During the physical festival, the business will shift focus to finished film sales, particularly the still-unsold art-house titles running in official competition. Schumacher, an industry veteran, says a main motivation in coming to Cannes 2021 was to meet with partners — distributors, producers, agents, and talent — he hasn’t seen in haven’t seen in person in over a year. That, and the opportunity to get out of the house.
“The virtual markets that we’ve had since the pandemic [Cannes held its first online-only Marche du Film last year] have been efficient, actually too efficient,” quips Schumacher. “You get up in your pajamas and start doing Zoom meetings. Before you know it, it’s evening, you order in Deliveroo and that’s your day.”
“It’s been terrible, horrible, sitting in front of a computer screen for hours. I can’t wait for the real film markets to be back,” concurs Millennium Films President Jeffrey Greenstein, who will be dropping in for a few days of meetings on the Croisette and to continue sales on titles including horror feature The Piper, starring Charlotte Hope and Julian Sands, and Antonio Banderas/Kate Bosworth noir-thriller The Enforcer.
“Sales are moving with the exception of Asia,” says Greenstein. “Distributors in several countries, including Philippines, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, even Vietnam, are getting pummeled because the pandemic is still raging and cinemas are locking down again. It’s really sad…while the larger companies and the larger territories are able to be forward-thinking and pre-buy content, many of the smaller companies from the smaller territories are really just focused on survival today.”
Even more than its film market, the 74th Cannes Festival will be judged on the movies that unspool on the Croisette over the next 10 days. 2019 marked a new high for the French fest, with Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite winning the Palme d’Or and going on to gross more than $250 million worldwide, as well as become the first Korean film to win the Oscar for best picture.
On paper, the 2021 line-up looks impressive, with just the kind of art-house titles — from Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch and Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta, to Paris, 13th District from French auteur Jacques Audiard, and Sean Baker’s The Florida Project follow-up Red Rocket—that Cannes specializes in turning into crossover hits.
“I’m a fan of the virtual markets, I find them ridiculously efficient,” says David Garrett of Mister Smith Entertainment, who will be pitching his new titles – including Kunal Nayyar/ Lucy Hale/Christina Hendricks-led The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – in Cannes from his London sofa this year.
“But having a film in Cannes, in the festival, can really give it a global reach. Not all movies benefit from that but if you have a difficult drama — say a movie like Nomadland [which premiered in Venice last year en route to its Oscar best picture win] — those kinds of films need the festivals to get attention and critical support. Otherwise, many will never see the light of day.”
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