Cannes Deals Wrap: The Fest "Was Odd" Says One Exec as Few Gems Emerge

I, Daniel Blake 2 - H 2016
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Sony Pictures Classics nabbed the fest's best reviewed film 'Toni Erdmann,' while Sundance Selects walked away with Palme d'Or winner 'I, Daniel Blake.' Says SPC co-president Michael Barker of this year's crop, "I didn't think it was very strong, but here I came away with three spectacular films."

Even in a lukewarm Cannes year, new and old players managed to reel in a few splashy projects.

Amazon, which entered the festival with five official selections, paid eight figures for North American rights to Mike Leigh's upcoming period drama Peterloo and beat out A24 for Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here, to star Joaquin Phoenix. The streaming giant also upped the price of foreign-language films when it bought Oscar nominee Asghar Farhadi's The Salesman, which screened in competition (Amazon will partner with Cohen Media Group on the release).

Also brandishing a big (if less active) wallet was Netflix, which paid $10 million for worldwide rights to the action thriller Wheelman, starring Frank Grillo. The company was said to be negotiating a comparable deal for the Nicholas Hoult starrer Sand Castle.

But spending wildly wasn't the only strategy. Sundance Selects/IFC Films president Jonathan Sehring landed Ken Loach's I, Daniel Blake for six figures, a savvy move given the film won the Palme d'Or days later. It's the fifth time in 11 years Sehring has nabbed the recipient of Cannes' highest honor (he has the 2015 winner, Dheepan, in theaters now). "There were a lot of good films throughout the festival, but we absolutely wanted that one," says Sehring of his lone competition film buy. "Everyone was incredibly moved by it."

Sehring is planning a fourth-quarter bow via Sundance Selects and hopes the British drama's socialist themes will resonate stateside during an election season when income inequality likely will be a topic of conversation. "The movie is incredibly timely here in the U.S.," says Sehring. "Ken has never been nominated for an Oscar, yet he's one of the great directors of the past 30 to 40 years."

Also on the specialty release front, The Orchard nabbed North American rights to Pablo Larrain's Spanish-language film Neruda. Seven minutes of footage from the director's Natalie Portman starrer Jackie also generated heat, and though there was not a domestic deal for the first lady biopic at press time, Fox Searchlight is said to have the right of first refusal.

And like last year, Sony Pictures Classics emerged with perhaps the best reviewed film of the festival: Maren Ade's German-language comedy Toni Erdmann, which won the Fipresci critics' prize. SPC will mount a foreign-language Oscar campaign as it did for this year's winner, Son of Saul, the only finished film the distributor picked up at Cannes 2015. SPC also landed Paul Verhoeven's well-reviewed Elle and animated film The Red Turtle.

"It was odd," says Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker of this year's crop. "I didn't think it was very strong, but here I came away with three spectacular films."

This story first appeared in the June 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.