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Cannes Cutbacks: Small Indies Fading

How much are the smaller U.S. indies cutting back their presence at Cannes?

Consider the following:

*Jean Ovrum and Victoria Plummer are not taking an office for the market this year. The heads of Trident Releasing, a small Los Angeles-based foreign sales company founded in 1989, say they will spend five days in Cannes to meet key distributors and will stay at a private villa.

*For the second year in a row, Golden Harvest, the company known for bringing “Ninja Turtles” to the world’s screens, has decided that it can do without Cannes and will have no representation at the market at all.

*Last year, Marco Columbo, who has since sold his Filmtrust to a group headed by Penny Karlin, surprised his foreign sales colleagues when he showed up in Cannes without an office and covered the Croisette with a portable telephone.

*The American Film Marketing Association canceled pre-Cannes screenings in Brussels May 6-8 when the 29 firms that expressed interest in the showings dwindled to three.

*Twenty-five out of 117 AFMA members have decided either to bypass or not take offices at Cannes and the AFMA enclave at the Martinez Hotel is down to 14 from a peak of 21 in 1989.

*Skouras Pictures, Omega Entertainment and Smart Egg Pictures are among the companies that are not going to Cannes this year.

These are signs of the economic reality of the present-day international film market, particularly its effect on small and mid-sized firms, say various experts associated with the overseas placement of independent English-language films.

In addition, they pinpoint the pressure and difficulty in assembling new product in the short span between the American Film Market and Cannes.

“This (Cannes) will be a very crucial one,” says Manley Productions’ Walter Manley. “The business has not essentially improved for small pictures since the American Film Market (early March). I’m not concerned about the 10% of the top companies, but the average sales tell us a lot.”

Manley points out that Cannes “is the most expensive venue in the world” and he wonders if it can remain a viable market for the smaller films. “Cannes last year was a turning point,” he says. “It has never been the same since the disappearance of the video buyers.”

But Manley, like many others in the foreign sales field, hails Cannes as the gateway for notable films. “It is always a good place place to pre-sell important films,” he says as he enters the pre-sales field with Paul Maslansky’s “Tor.”

A random survey indicates that perhaps 25% of the American indies consider Cannes meaningful for their business. “If you have something to sell, it’s worthwhile,” says New Line’s International topper Rolf Mittweg, who notes that he will announce five new pix for pre-sale. At the same time, New Line will be represented by a slew of acquisition people seeking product for the company’s various distribution outlets.

AIP Studios’ Ed Shields is convinced that it is a disaster for small and mid-sized companies to go to Cannes if they don’t have anything new to present. “We make our own pictures so we do have something to announce,” he said.

No go no stigma

The fear and stigma of not making an appearance at Cannes – or any market for that matter – appears to be diminishing as the economy tightens for many companies. Attendance for a growing number of sales firms seems to be conditioned on the availability of product.

Trident Releasing’s decision for minimum participation at Cannes is based on the preparation of “The Ice Runner,” starring Timothy Bottoms and Pat Morita, the company’s first financing venture, say partners Ovrum and Plummer. They say they’ll have the picture ready for screening at both the fall AFM and Mifed.

Golden Harvest is one of the few production-distribution independents that can take or leave Cannes without guilt. “We’re set up differently,” says Los Angeles-based production chief Tom Gray. “We have offices in London and Hong Kong and we sell all year long. We don’t think there is a need to spend that kind of money. If we have something that fits Cannes, we’ll go.”

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