For pickups, waiting is the hardest part

Cannes pics can take their time making it to the big screen

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CANNES -- Filmmakers peddling titles on the Croisette know that this festival is a great way to build momentum for their movie.

Or is it?

A clutch of pics bought at last year's Cannes took as many as eight or nine months to be released, and some have still not come out.

After more than a year on the fest circuit, the Dardenne brothers' "Lorna's Silence" will finally be released in July.

James Gray's "Two Lovers" was one of the most coveted pics of last year's festival -- but didn't hit theaters until this past February.

James Toback's documentary "Tyson," a high-buzz Un Certain Regard title last year, was just released several weeks ago (though extenuating legal circumstances may have played a role in that delay).

Other titles that were bought out of last year's fest are just beginning to arrive in theaters: Paolo Sorrentino's Italian political pic "Il Divo" opened last week in New York and Los Angeles, and Jennifer Lynch's thriller "Surveillance" is scheduled for late June.

The lag, experts say, can not only create frustration on the part of the filmmaker -- it can undermine the appeal of playing the fest in the first place.

"It used to be that, for the big acquisition, the festival was kind of the first marketing shot you would fire," one marketing insider said. "You'd get a chance to take advantage of the media and the excitement. But it's a lot harder to do that when your movie doesn't come out for a year."

With screens for specialized films at a premium, some distributors say their hands are tied.

But the growing number of delays between a Cannes rollout and a marketplace release also is a function of the shrinking number of distribs.

When Miramax, Focus and other companies were more regularly buying fest films -- and companies like ThinkFilm and Picturehouse were still in business -- titles were spread out among a large number of firms. That meant no distrib was saddled with a backlog of movies.

Now, a small handful distribute a large number of pics. That forces them to spread out releases over a long period of time.

Almost every indie distrib still active has held films for an extended period of time; IFC is one of the few to buy pics at Cannes and almost without exception release them in the fall (in part, because it frequently uses its VOD platform, which is not subject to the theatrical bottleneck).

A delay isn't always a bad thing, of course.

One of the few indie hits so far this year -- Overture's $11 million-earning "Sunshine Cleaning," saw a fourteen-month delay between its Sundance premiere in 2008 and its release this past March. The added time allowed Overture to carefully plan its release-date and strategy. But producers say that phenomenon is the exception more than the rule.

Already, four pics have been bought buy specialty distributors on the Croisette, giving hope that the finished film market is alive and well.

But many filmmakers -- or filmgoers -- waiting for a Cannes premiere to turn into a quick marketplace release might be waiting a long time.