U.S. indies on buying binge as mart ebbs


Will Cannes winners translate in the States? See Risky Business, page 2.

CANNES — U.S. independent distributors have snatched up Festival de Cannes titles like a starved partygoer unleashed on the buffet, with several domestic deals locked up. But as the Cannes market winds down, most attendees complained of sluggish business, with a clearer divide between A product and the also-rans.

Miramax Films rang in one of the biggest acquisitions in Cannes early Thursday, nabbing all North American rights to one of the most sought-after titles of the fest, Julian Schnabel's French-language drama "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," for about $3 million.

IFC is thought to be close to a final deal for domestic rights on Gus Van Sant's In Competition "Paranoid Park" for its day-and-date label First Take. The deal is said to be one of the biggest First Take acquisitions to date.

Another deal nearing the finish line, according to a source involved in the deal, is music video director Anton Corbijn's Joy Division biopic "Control." First Independent Pictures and a yet-to-be-determined division of Wagner/Cuban Coms. (likely Magnolia or HDNet Films) are in negotiations to jointly acquire rights to the film.

Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group splashed the cash this year, most recently prebuying North American rights to the comedy horror film "The Cottage" from Cinetic.

Like all of SPWAG's buys here — which included Millennium Films' Al Pacino starrer "88 Minutes" and the horror actioner "Legion" — it hasn't been determined yet whether it will be distributed theatrically, and if so, which arm of Sony or which strategic partner of SPWAG's will distribute.

Earlier this week, Sony's indie division, Sony Pictures Classics, took domestic rights to Eran Kolirin's crowd-pleaser "The Band's Visit" from Bleiberg Entertainment. Sony Pictures Entertainment scooped up North American rights and a slew of other territories to Paul W.S. Anderson's "The Long Good Friday," from U.K. production and finance banner Handmade Films.

"We obviously had a really good market in terms of finding things that were worthy of being acquired," said SPWAG president Peter Schlessel, who was involved in multiple transactions, including one of the festival's big deals for James Grey's "We Own the Night" for label Columbia Pictures. "I felt like it was a very vibrant marketplace."

Other prominent domestic deals announced in Cannes include:

IFC Entertainment's day-and-date First Take scored a double play, picking up two of the Palme d'Or front-runners: the Romanian abortion drama "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" and the whimsical "Flight of the Red Balloon."

Roadside Attractions nabbed Nadine Labaki's Lebanese romantic comedy "Caramel," a Directors' Fortnight entry.

ThinkFilm and Discovery Communications acquired North American rights to the Iraq War documentary "Taxi to the Darkside," from Alex Gibney ("Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room").

On the sales side, market execs reported so-so business, with only A-level titles flying off the shelves.

"What we saw here was a really robust market," said Kim Fox, head of worldwide sales and distribution at QED International, which did brisk business on Neil Burger's "The Return," "Echo" and "Powder Blue." "It started on Day 1 and hasn't stopped. Coming from a tired and depressed Berlin market to this was really exciting. But strong pictures always sell … and that was the case this year especially."

Smaller indies and international sellers had less to crow about, with mainly bread-and-butter deals for smaller territories.

"It's been slower than usual, and I have the feeling that from Monday onward there was less traffic than usual," said Simon de Santiago, head of the international division for powerhouse Sogecable's sales division Sogepaq.

Added StudioCanal international sales director Muriel Sauzay: "The market has been pretty dead for the most part. Spain has seen a lot of movement, but I have the impression that there are mostly big, big American films from the studios this year."

Noted Stefan Menz, president of German sales outfit Atlas International: "It's become a two-class society. There are the huge projects, and then the handful that are generating major buzz, the ones that everyone is chasing after. Those start bidding wars and get deals done here. Then there are all the rest."

But for any serious international player, Cannes' Marche du Film is still a must-go.

"Overseas sales are increasingly important as our movies have bigger and bigger budgets," CJ Entertainment vp international sales Kini Kim said.

Tatiana Siegel, Jonathan Landreth and Pamela Rolfe contributed to this report.