Continental drift evident in Cannes

Fewer buyers this year at a low-key festival

Cannes market beats expectations
More Cannes coverage

Far from great but better than expected -- that's the assessment of buyers returning home from this year's Cannes market to tally up deal memos and tabulate expenses.

Most striking was the apparent continental drift, as the needs of the European, Asian and U.S. markets seem to float further and further apart.

The U.S. market continues to display a large trade deficit. While the amount of product that financiers and producers are churning out -- dozens of indie projects, many with big stars attached -- shows no sign of a letup, U.S. buyers' appetites remain more finicky than ever.

"There's no one left," one major European seller complained. "Everyone just goes to Sony Pictures Classics, and if they say no, you have to settle for one of the small guys."

As the Festival de Cannes wrapped, only a handful of buyers were active in either the finished film or market arenas. Those buying finished films included a narrow band of specialty distributors such as IFC and SPC. And most of the major studios and specialty divisions sat this one out.

Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group did pick up rights for Duncan Jones' sci-fi thriller "Moon" for Italy, Spain, Latin America and all Asian territories (excluding South Korea) at the market, adding to the English-speaking territory rights already secured.

"There is no doubt this year's Cannes was more low-key than ever before," one U.K. sales chief said. "Sure, properties were being sold, but there were fewer buyers and less outlets, and any deals struck were done only on solid leads."

One industry sales veteran places Cannes at the beginning of far harder times to come for everyone in the independent sales and financing biz.

"It's a fact that even the studio buyers who are always in the market for multiterritory acquisitions on independent movies were able to pay less and be far more cautious," he said.

But Sony's multiterritory pact for "Moon," struck with the producer and U.K. global sales agent Independent, was not the norm for deals struck.

That said, in Europe, distributors large and small continued to buy at a slower but steady pace.

Summit International rode the Robert Pattinson gravy train to Cannes and back, doing blockbuster foreign sales on "Twilight" sequel "New Moon" and upcoming Pattinson starrer "Remember Me."

Other strong international presellers included Lionsgate's action-adventure/romantic comedy "Five Killers," starring Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl; Kevin Macdonald's Roman Britain epic "The Eagle of the Ninth," from Focus Features International; and the CAA-packaged project "The Men Who Stare at Goats" featuring George Clooney.

There were also some surprises -- such as IM Global's genre parody "Bitch Slap," which did bumper biz, closing deals with Splendid in Germany, Momentum in the U.K. and TriPictures in Spain, among others.

Sales to Europe for finished films also remained strong. Most Competition titles came in with much of Europe sold, but sellers mopped up remaining territories. Jane Campion's period drama "Bright Star" sold to Vertigo in Spain and Atlantic Film for Scandinavia in Cannes, and CJ Entertainment closed multiple deals for Park Chan-wook's erotic vampire tale "Thirst," including ones with MFA+ in Germany and Ecofilmes in Portugal.

Asian films were all over this year's festival, with Japanese, Filipino, Thai, Hong Kong and Chinese films playing alongside no fewer than nine Korean titles and the first film from Malaysia in more than a decade.

But take note: Buyers from Japan, Korea and China were not hungry for non-Asian films. Even the India boom appears over as the recent flood of new TV channels appears stocked up for launch.

If anything, Cannes reinforced the notion that Asia is becoming ever more a self-sustaining region in its own right. Korean, Japanese and Chinese films are capable of raising their budgets and making profits without recourse to wide international sales -- as long as they can sell strongly within the region. Similarly, local distributors showed themselves willing and able to prebuy the strongest Asian projects on offer while taking their time to cherry-pick from the rest of the world only the content that is Asian relevant or a boxoffice or festival champion.

Scott Roxborough reported from Cologne, Germany, and Stuart Kemp reported from London. Patrick Frater in Hong Kong and Steven Zeitchik in New York contributed to this report.