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Despite a year of COVID-19, virtual markets and online-only releases, the independent film business has found ways to make and release movies worldwide. Sales at the Virtual Cannes Market in 2020 — the first online-only film market held after the pandemic hit — were near record highs, and Toronto and AFM were similarly bullish, leaving sellers heading into Cannes’ 2021 Marché du Film, which runs July 6-15, in an upbeat mood.
“Demand from buyers has held up, supply hasn’t really been affected, it’s been a weirdly positive year,” says Nick Spicer of XYZ Films, which has racked up six Netflix No. 1 releases in the COVID era, including the Anna Kendrick-Toni Collette starrer Stowaway and Synchronic with Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan.
“There’s a real energy in the market,” notes Dave Bishop, CEO of sales-production outfit Protagonist Pictures, which sold Ben Sharrock’s Scottish satire Limbo in Toronto to Focus Features for most of the world, and closed out global sales on Prano Bailey-Bond’s horror title Censor in Sundance. “All things considered, there’s been a tremendous appetite around finished films and presales.”
There is certainly no shortage of films for Cannes 2021, with a bumper crop of new titles across all genres hitting the Marché, offering a pick of A-list talent, including Ewan McGregor, Vin Diesel, Natalie Portman and Letitia Wright.
Director Frank Berry
Stars Letitia Wright, Josh O’Connor
Buzz This combination of rising stars Wright (Black Panther) and O’Connor (God’s Own Country), with the political hot-button topic of immigration — Wright plays Aisha, a young Nigerian woman caught in limbo for years in Ireland’s immigration system — could make this Brit title a winner for the specialty market worldwide.
Sales StudioCanal, 30West
Director Susanna Fogel
Stars Emilia Jones, Nicholas Braun
Buzz Red-hot rising star Jones of Sundance hit Coda is a prime attraction in this drama based on Kristen Roupenian’s famed 2017 New Yorker short story about the horrors of modern dating.
Director Richard Hughes
Stars Antonio Banderas, Kate Bosworth, 2 Chainz
Buzz Oscar-nominated for Pain and Glory, Banderas gets his action back on with this crime thriller where he plays a mob enforcer who turns against his femme fatale boss (Bosworth). That premise should provide indie distributors with the kind of tried and true actioner that delivers, particularly for home entertainment.
Sales HanWay Films, UTA Independent Film Group
Director Doug Liman
Stars Ewan McGregor, Sam Heughan, Mark Strong
Buzz Theatrical distributors worldwide will be panting over this high-profile survival thriller, which sees McGregor play real-life adventurer George Mallory, who sets out to become the first person to climb Everest without the use of oxygen.
Sales Protagonist Pictures
Director Jason Wingard
Stars Emily Watson, Richard E. Grant
Buzz A rom-com for the newly vaccinated and traditionally heavy-cinema-going 50-plus audience, this Brit feature follows Oscar-nominated actors Watson and Grant as a long-married couple whose relationship is revived after she travels to Lisbon and is caught up in the magic of fado, Portugal’s sensuous folk music.
Sales FilmNation, CAA Media Finance/UTA Independent Film Group
Director Garth Davis
Stars Saoirse Ronan, Paul Mescal, LaKeith Stanfield
Buzz This adaptation of Iain Reid’s mind-bending sci-fi novel, from Lion director Davis, could appeal to international buyers looking for a genre-art house crossover akin to FilmNation’s Arrival — if a studio or streamer doesn’t pounce first.
Sales Cinetic Media/CAA Media Finance/WME, MadRiver
Director Todd Solondz
Stars Rachel Weisz, Colin Farrell
Buzz Solondz’s latest — billed as a “dark and hilarious twist” on the classical Oedipus story — re-teams Weisz and Farrell, stars of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, one of the critical and sales hits of Cannes 2015.
Sales Storyboard Media, CAA Media Finance
Director Neil Jordan
Stars Liam Neeson
Buzz Neeson in an action thriller is the closest the indie market has to a sure thing, so expect this noir feature, from The Crying Game director Jordan, inspired by Raymond Chandler’s iconic detective Philip Marlowe, to be one of Cannes’ first sellouts.
Sales Rocket Science, UTA Independent Film Group/CAA Media Finance
Director Todd Haynes
Stars Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore
Buzz Haynes and muse Moore will reteam for their sixth collaboration in this high-end family drama, which sees Portman as an actress spending time with a woman (Moore) she will play in a film of her life. Certain to be atop the list of Cannes’ art house buyers.
Sales Mister Smith Entertainment
Director Jonas Akerlund
Stars Jacob Fortune-Lloyd
Buzz Music biopics like Queen and Rocket Man have done big business recently and Akerlund’s take on the life of Beatles manager Brian Epstein — played by The Queen’s Gambit actor Fortune-Lloyd — has crossover hit written all over it.
Sales ErosSTX International
Director F. Gary Gray
Stars Vin Diesel
Buzz Plot details of STX’s latest actioner are being kept under wraps, but the combination of Fast and Furious star Diesel with F&F 8 helmer Gray means STX should have no problem revving up sales.
No Place Like Kill
Director Mat Newman
Stars Sam Riley, Charles Dance
Buzz Anton proved it could deliver cost-effective action with surprise hit Greenland, and this crime thriller — about a mercenary and a police informant being hunted down by a murderous drug lord — should attract indie buyers looking for high-concept genre fare.
Sales Rocket Science, CAA Media Finance/Elevated
Directors Anthony Hines, Casper Christensen
Stars Shailene Woodley, Jack Whitehall
Buzz The combination of Hines’ humor — seen in screenplays for Borat and Boart: Subsequent Movie Film — and sci-fi genre elements sees Whitehall and Woodley play a womanizer and a gold digger, respectively, who team up to pursue robot doubles of themselves. The genre mashup could make this one of the rare comedies that could break through internationally.
She Came to Me
Sales Protagonist Pictures, CAA Media Finance
Director Rebecca Miller
Stars Anne Hathaway, Tahar Rahim, Marisa Tomei, Joanna Kulig, Matthew Broderick
Buzz A modern, multigenerational take on the rom-com, the latest from Maggie’s Plan director Miller could play well with specialty distributors both domestic and international.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Sales Mister Smith Entertainment
Director Hans Canosa
Stars Kunal Nayyar, Christina Hendricks, Lucy Hale
Buzz A heartwarming rom-com pitched at the smarter set, this feature, adapted from Gabrielle Zevin’s best-seller about a cantankerous bookstore owner (Nayyar) whose life is changed when he finds a baby in his store, looks like just the sort of feel-good title Cannes buyers will be clamoring for.
Sales Metro International, CAA Media Finance
Director Marc Munden
Stars Gemma Arterton, Guy Pearce
Buzz A historical romance based on the speculated-upon relationship between Jackie Kennedy (Arterton) and British diplomat David Harlech (Pearce), this could prove an irresistible package for high-end global distributors.
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