Cannes opens screen doors for docs

Cannes Film Festival 2012 - The Projects

While the latest pics from auteurs are the Cannes entree, documentaries are the tasty side dish, and the ones lacking distribution deals that make the cut are well-positioned to be served to hungry buyers.

Seven films are included in the official selection (though not the main competition), including “Une Journee Particuliere,” about the history of the fest, co-directed by fest president Gilles Jacob.

“I’ve seen some terrific documentaries at Cannes,” says Dan Guando the Weinstein Co.’s senior vice president of acquisitions. “They have to rise to a certain level to be invited, and are usually a step above what you find at other festivals,” he adds.

High-profile filmmakers, such as Charles Ferguson (his Oscar-winner “Inside Job” premiered at Cannes in 2010) or Ken Burns, who is at the fest with “The Central Park Five,” can leverage the auteur label through the fest’s media scrum. Even though Burns feels he might be “a little out of place, without the right sunglasses” on the Croissette, the pic is his second preem at the fest. All 15 hours of “The War” debuted in 2007.

Slated for PBS in 2013 or 2014, “The Central Park Five” chronicles the aftermath of an infamous 1989 crime — the beating and rape of a white woman knows as the Central Park jogger — and the five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem wrongfully convicted of the crime.

A Cannes berth also helps a distrib market a film theatrically. Submarine’s Josh Braun points to “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” which did well internationally after a Cannes slot. “We absolutely close deals at the festival, and we’re also looking to find projects to sell,” adds Braun, who will have several docs in the market.

After Sundance and SXSW, Braun contends, “It feels like the market is healthy; I’m more optimistic than pessimistic.”

Docs that can expand beyond the traditional indie film audience are always on buyers’ radar. Rob Williams, vice president acquisitions of L.A.-based Indomina Group, points to Ice-T’s “Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap,” which U.K.-based Kaleidoscope Film Distribution will rep outside of North America. “We’re not treating the film like a documentary, we’re treating it as a performance film,” he says of Indomina’s strategy. The firm looks for films that have a realistic theatrical potential because of talent attached and multiple marketing hooks.

Focused handling is required for U.S.-made docs in international frames. “It takes a certain amount of special care, but there are good companies around the world who do well with documentaries,” says Annie Roney, managing director of Roco Films. Theatrical minimums often must be weighed against solid upfront TV offers, says the distribution exec, who sits out Cannes, opting for more doc-orientated fests and markets.

For the fifth year, there will be an official documentary brunch organized by the market, which brings together filmmakers in the festival, distribs, other fest programmers and financiers for a lunchtime networking sesh. This year, the market launches Doc Corner, where a digital library of nonfiction fare is available to programmers and buyers.

Despite the fact that Cannes has no dedicated documentary programmer, “It is still the best fest (in which) to launch a movie, documentary or not,” Guando says.

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