LONDON — “Cannes created this film and this director,” says Cedomir Kolar, producer of Danis Tanovic’s “No Man’s Land.” “Without Cannes it would have worked, but not like this.”
Tanovic’s tough Bosnian war satire was the discovery of last year’s festival, winning an eight-minute ovation and the script prize. It went on to pick up more than 30 awards at fests around the world, crowned by the foreign-language Oscar.
Most distribs had already bought the pic on the strength of the Croisette buzz, well before the jury bestowed its official blessing on closing night. The prize just added a little bit to the price.
Sales agents at Cannes routinely insert a contractual clause upping the price a small percentage in the event a pic wins a Palme. That, at least, offers some objective proof that Cannes kudos are considered to have some commercial value.
This is particularly true for tough arthouse movies by little-known filmmakers. In 1999, the jury delivered a true shock by awarding the Palme d’Or to “Rosetta” by the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, a tiny film that screened so late in the fest that most people had already gone home.
“Without the Palme d’Or, I don’t think ‘Rosetta’ would have gone as far as it did,” comments Pierre Menahem, of sales outfit Celluloid Dreams. “Particularly (for buyers) in Japan, Taiwan and Korea — they love award winners.”
“A prize at Cannes mostly helps in establishing the name of the talent involved within the industry,” opines Wouter Barendrecht of Fortissimo Film Sales. “Whether anyone in Buenos Aires or Tokyo will go and see a film because of that, I doubt. But when you’re at a film market with over 300 films, it certainly helps you stand out.”
But there’s a limit. The Grand Prix for “Devils on the Doorstep” in 2000 “definitely persuaded some distributors who were keen on the film but needed some reason to buy it,” recalls Barendrecht. “But even though it won the second prize, there were still a whole bunch of territories where we were unable to sell the film.”
For bigger films by better- known directors, Cannes has its commercial benefits, too, but this requires meticulous management. David Linde, president of Good Machine Intl., last year handled “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” for which Joel Coen co-won the directing prize.
“Cannes is an incredible platform, but you have to put a lot of thought into what you’re going to do there and afterwards,” he says. ” ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’ is beautiful and contemplative, but it’s not in your face, so the prize emphasized the importance of the movie, and validated the decision of distributors who had pre-bought it.” The selection of the film for Competition also played a direct role in selling it “for a great price” to Latin America and Australia.
For the Hollywood studios, Cannes remains fraught with risk. Their prestige movies are typically scheduled for a fall release, so launching at Cannes is a risk with little obvious upside.
But it can work. Jeffrey Katzenberg’s determination to bring the animated movie “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” to this year’s Cannes is a sure sign that DreamWorks was delighted with the response to “Shrek” last year.
Even though the ogre left without a prize, just being in the competition helped to get the message across that this was a movie for adults as well as kids.