This year’s Cannes festival and market serves as a vivid illustration of the widening gap between major and minor film business players from the United States.

Simply put, while the smaller companies are being forced to minimize their presence at Cannes this year (see accompanying story), the bigger companies will be as aggressive as ever.

These major independents – with some new hopefuls among them – will be out in force to pre-sell new product, look for buyers, follow up on sales started at the AFM, kick off international marketing campaigns and powwow with old customers.

“Cannes is still the quintessential major meeting and gathering place for industry executives. It favors the stronger companies and stronger pictures,” says Ian Jessel, president of Spelling Films International, which is making its debut at Cannes by launching pre-sales on two thrillers – Mark Frost’s “Storyville” and Robert Altman’s “The Player.”

Judging from the product lists issued prior to Cannes, the well-heeled indies do not appear to be armed with a substantial number of new projects, although some withheld titles at the American Film Market for introduction at Cannes. Others are expected to announce new pre-sale wares in France.

Carolco, the major indie supplier of potential blockbusters, will introduce a new package of films at Cannes, according to international sales v.p. Chris Bialek.

At presstime, he was unsure how many pictures would be available, but noted that Carolco will continue its policy of seeking commitments for the whole bundle from territorial distributors. Columbia Tri-Star’s international division has a deal to pick up a number of territories. Bialek says it involves different agreements on each package of films.

Debut for PentaAmerica

Making its first splash in Cannes under a new banner, PentaAmerica Pictures, the Hollywood production outpost of Silvio Berlusconi Communications and the Cecchi Gori Group, will offer distribs the first three films from the joint production venture, a lineup that includes such star names as Jack Nicholson, Kathleen Turner, Ellen Barkin, and Tom Selleck.

“We talked about them at the American Film Market, but we’ll start selling at Cannes,” says Milton Goldstein, who is working as a foreign sales consultant with PentaAmerica prexy Gianni Nunnari. The three films – “Man Trouble,” “House of Cards,” and “Folks” – will have begun principal photography by the time Cannes rolls around, adds Goldstein.

Morgan Creek International topper Gary Barber says the company will unveil two new titles, “White Sands” and “Trial by Jury,” but stresses that the main function of the Cannes exposure is for the marketing of “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.”

“We have a distribution network,” he says, “and we do our selling on a year-round basis.” Barber regards Cannes as just another stop in the overall selling process.

Largo, The Summit Group and The Mount Film Group will be mainly following up on titles previously introduced. Largo and Mount, the latter making its Cannes debut under international sales chief Josh Kramer, will also be on the alert for co-production possibilities.

“We’re there as a new company and we’ll look around to see what kind of relationships we can make,” says Kramer. Largo’s Jean-Louis Rubin says he plans to conclude deals on “Back in the USSR” (formerly “Icons”) that were started at the American Film Market.

“Markets aren’t necessary for the kind of pictures we do,” says Cinergi topper Andy Vajna, launching his own production program with the Sean Connery starrer, “The Stand: The Last Days of Eden” after severing his ties with Carolco which he founded with Mario Kassar. “They’re more for meeting and talking plans. Any place that a group of industry people gathers is important for major pictures.”

Vajna, like many of the big sellers, feels he doesn’t need markets to make placements for his type of films. He favors the yearround one-on-one sales technique with distribs with whom relationships have been developed. Vajna is part of The Summit Group, the joint venture foreign sales company he co-owns with Bernd Eichinger (Constatin Films) and Arnon Milchan (Regency International).

Dino De Laurentiis Communications and Vision International are utilizing Cannes as a launching pad for completed pictures in addition to other sales tasks. “Cannes is the best place to kick off a picture’s international marketing campaign,” says Vision’s Mark Damon, who has his sights set on John Berry’s “Captive In The Land,” a U.S.-Soviet coproduction selected for the Cannes fest’s Un Certain Regarde section, and “Shadow Of The Wolf,” a $22 million French-Canadian co-production.

With France, Italy, and Germany scheduled for a May 15 opening of “In Bed With Madonna, ” the music docu produced by the star (titled “Truth Or Dare” for U.S. release Miramax), DDLC will unleash a massive. promotional barrage aimed at getting the attention of the more than 2,500 members of the international press that descends on Cannes annually. Madonna will be there in person for the hoopla.

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