The big chill continues

Just like at Toronto and Sundance, wallets stay in pockets

As the festival wound down Thursday, no U.S. distributor has made a major acquisition. Thus, Cannes continues what's been a dismal cycle for the finished-film market that began last year in Toronto.

Theatrical grosses have dropped, there's been a glut of product, and then came the closing of Warner Bros.' specialty divisions. The result, insiders said, is that because specialty divisions can afford only so many costly in-house productions, there will be fewer overall indie releases during the coming year.

For the sellers, producers and filmmakers who rely on fests and had been enjoying the boom that preceded the current bust, it will mean adjusting expectations and strategies at future events.

Here, signs of the soft market couldn't be ignored. Miramax made a big splash last year with its $3 million North American purchase of "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," but it has made only one fest purchase since, the Cannes opener "Blindness," pre-buying U.S. rights at Toronto. Last year, studios drove up bidding on James Gray's "We Own the Night" to $11.5 million, but this year buyers circled Gray's "Two Lovers" warily.

Even the more commercially oriented Cannes market failed to seduce buyers, who took a wait-and-see attitude toward such movies as Richard Linklater's "Me and Orson Welles" and Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler."

The companies that have opened their wallets since Toronto were the new, product-hungry mini-majors like Overture and companies that tend to get active in buyers' markets, like Sony Pictures Classics.

At Cannes, such smaller outfits as Liberation, First Look and IFC picked up the slack. IFC took at least six Cannes titles, which will help fill its large VOD pipeline.

Larger companies just seemed gun-shy about pulling the trigger. "People are just shellshocked from the absence of New Line, Picturehouse and Warner Independent, so they're very cautious," Myriad Pictures' Kirk D'Amico said. (partialdiff)