Films selling despite festival's dour mood

The Croisette was less crowded this year, and even the most popular restaurants had a few empty tables.

So it didn’t take long before some Cannes festgoers declared that this year’s market was already dead — but the obits may have been premature.

There were fewer looky-loos this year, to be sure, but deals were being made. As is often the case, the most frenzied action was non-American, with Asia and India making big splashes.

But among the American outfits, Focus and IFC enjoyed a lot of action and even Sony Pictures Classics — which looked like it might go home empty-handed — on Wednesday made a modest six-figure bid for all rights on James Toback’s “Tyson” doc.

Americans may have felt the market was subdued because the weak dollar and inclement weather dampened enthusiasm. And some of the highest-profile films at the market were U.S. pics that came without a domestic distrib — and still hadn’t found one as the fest headed to a close: Steven Soderbergh’s “Che” two-parter, James Gray’s “Two Lovers,” Barry Levinson’s “What Just Happened?” and Charlie Kaufman’s feature helming debut, “Synecdoche, New York.”

Focus Features Intl. sales and distribution prexy Alison Thompson told Daily Variety that it had “done pretty much all the business we had hoped” at the fest, despite the alleged doom and gloom at the market.

A number of companies bought international rights to Focus films such as “Milk,” the Gus Van Sant-directed bio of slain gay pol Harvey Milk; Sam Mendes’ untitled pic about newlyweds starring John Krasinski; and “A Serious Man,” from the Coen brothers.

IFC made a series of smaller acquisitions, picking up six pics. The indie nabbed Un Certain Regard opener “Hunger,” Brit rookie Steve McQueen’s pic about a 1981 IRA hunger strike; Arnaud Desplechin’s competition entry “A Christmas Tale”; Olivier Assayas’ “Summer Hours”; Josh Safdie’s “The Pleasure of Being Robbed”; Korean hit “The Chaser”; and Anna Melikyan’s “Mermaid.”

IFC will release the films through its day-and-date theatrical/VOD distribution model, which shares revenues with filmmakers.

“IFC is taking more risk at the festival,” said William Morris Independent’s Jerome Duboz. “They will go for movies even if they are difficult.”

Meanwhile, the “Tyson” deal wasn’t set on Wednesday, but Toback said he talked with SPC’s Michael Barker, his “prospective distributor,” on the Croisette that day. Toback was hoping to close on one of several offers before he left town. ICM’s Jeff Berg is handling the sale.

As the fest, which began May 14, enters its closing days (it wraps Sunday), four buyers are bidding on Joaquin Phoenix starrer “Two Lovers,” but 2929 Entertainment will sell the $12 million film only if the deal gives it a shot at a bigger upside through output deals than it would get on its own through Magnolia Pictures.

The same is true of Levinson’s $20 million Sundance pic “What Just Happened,” which will close the fest.

“Synecdoche, New York,” which Sidney Kimmel Entertainment backed for $20 million, failed to score a sale out of an early buyers’ screening. Buyers are waiting for critical response to the film, which unspools today.

And Steven Soderbergh’s “Che,” which received love-it/hate-it reviews, is looking for a U.S. distrib, but the question is in what form: One long film, two two-hour pics — or some other configuration of the biopic.

And while Wild Bunch execs still need, and remain confident of getting, a significant U.S. deal to cover their substantial financial investment, pic has already pre-sold widely to a number of major territories, including the U.K.

Ali Jaafar and Timothy M. Gray contributed to this report.

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