Cannes buyer ire: pre-sales pre-sold

Mostly foreign-lingo pics getting attention

CANNES — As the 54th Cannes Intl. Film Festival entered its first weekend, festgoers and market attendees seemed as overcast as the sky on the French Riviera. The laments were loud and clear: Where are the pre-buys, where are the U.S. acquisitions and where are the Germans?

While the market boasted a 5,000-person jump in registration, the 2001 market is so low-key that tables were still available at the Majestic bar on a weekend — something virtually unheard of in years past.

Some optimistic execs had wondered if a strike would inspire a bullish film market, with fare-hungry distribs snapping up acquisitions. But in the aftermath of the WGA settlement, it’s clear that the emphasis is on pre-buys.

Says one producer, “I’m kind of disappointed that the strike didn’t happen. It means that buyers are a lot less likely to buy my movie.”

Still, it seems pic shoppers might have been reluctant to go on a spree even if a strike had taken place. Sales agents quietly confess that many available films were shot in a rush, resulting in some films of dubious quality.

To the naked eye, the fest seemed to get off to a quick start. Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein is in fine fettle, announcing a five-year first-look deal with Martin Scorsese and seemingly on the verge of one of his fabled buying sprees.Miramax snapped up rights to, among others, Pandora’s “Company Man” and Fortissimo’s Thai competition entry “Tears of the Black Tiger” and is circling North American and remake rights to the French-language “15 Aout.”

Meanwhile, Lot 47 grabbed Claire Denis’ “Trouble Every Day” from Wild Bunch and Sony Pictures Classics acquired John Sayles’ “Sunshine State.”

Columbia TriStar is also finalizing a deal to pick up North American distribution rights to Constantin/Intermedia’s “Resident Evil” from director Paul Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt’s Impact Pictures.

But for the most part, it’s only the foreign-language finished films that are receiving buyers’ attention here.

“Company Man,” “Resident Evil” and “Sunshine State,” which are in production, are typical pre-buys. When distributors believe in a pic, they’d prefer to step up quickly rather than take a chance waiting on the finished product.

German buyers continue to maintain a low profile, with New Line now seeking new Teutonic partners since it’s chosen not to renew its output deal with Kinowelt.

And buyers, never at a loss for complaints, have two others that play off the lack of product. First, screenings for desirable films, which always fill fast, and put shoppers at risk of being shut out, are reaching bottleneck levels.

And if that weren’t enough, the strike limbo has dried up Cannes’ “underground” market for pre-buys and scripts.

Buyers do have some reasons to get up early, however.

Among the titles being tracked by U.S. pic shoppers are Nanni Moretti’s “The Son’s Room,” a print of which was sent to Miramax Films and Sony Pictures Classics in New York, while Fine Line Features took in a pre-Cannes screening in Paris.

A deal was also imminentfor “The 51st State,” which stars Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Carlyle. Heat was high on another Carlyle-starrer, “Das Cowboy,” which is about to begin production under Terry Jones’ Messiah Films.

Action-thriller “Down,” directed by Dutch helmer Dick Maas and sold by CLT-Ufa, has received interest from Dimension Films.

A top ticket late last week was FilmFour’s “Crush,” starring Andie MacDowell and directed by John McKay. Also receiving attention were the Martin Scorsese-produced “Rain,” sold by LolaFilms U.K., and UGC’s f/x-laden “Vidocq.” Also generating buzz were “Kissing Jessica Stein,” a tale of modern-day singledom in New York City directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, and an upcoming screening of the doc “Traveling Birds.”

On the foreign front, Good Machine Intl. has virtually sold out on the Coen brothers’ “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” including deals with Buena Vista Intl. for Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Latin America, while Miramax Intl. closed, among other deals, a five-picture, $15 million package with Japan’s Gaga Communications.

Disappointments to date include “Dark Blue World” from Jan Svorak (“Kolya”), which is being sold by TF1 Intl. in the market.

Meanwhile, Weinstein’s good mood did not stop him from ribbing Jean Labadie, head of French distrib BAC, at Miramax’s distributors luncheon. Weinstein shocked the assembled when he declared Labadie the recipient of Miramax’s worst distributor of the year award, thanks to the poor showing of “Chocolat” in France.

(Adam Dawtrey contributed to this report.)