CANNES — Here’s this year’s Cannes Conundrum.
I have heard, over and over again, during this year’s annual May Market Madness, the following observations from seasoned film biz pros:
- The indie film world is at its lowest point in history.
- Old-fashioned bazaar-style film markets like Cannes are on the brink of extinction.
- Deals on offer won’t cover production catering and P&A deals offered won’t open an envelope.
- The double-whammy of the Neur Markt collapse and the Kirch catastrophe has taken Germany out the game, leaving a mortal wound at the center of the business.
In other words, phone it in, cancel my Martinez reservations, throw in the beach towel, cut up the credit cards and find another gig. Become a civilian.
So why did I just spend 10 days spotting all the usual indie suspects, gladhanding in their Riviera stands, swanning about in their Majestic suites, laughing and sipping pastis in their Du Cap deck chairs?
I have culled three answers to this strange, contradictory situation from my days and nights (and early mornings) on the Croisette. The first is psychological, if not pharmacological. I call it the “Cannes as Crack Cocaine” theory.
“Cannes is a stimulant that people in the film business need,” observes vet U.K. producer Jeremy Thomas, whose Hanway sales outfit is selling many films, including the new Ewan McGregor-Tilda Swinton starrer “Young Adam.” “You need the rush of meeting all the people you need to meet in one place, of seeing all the films. Besides, if you don’t come to Cannes, you’re not in the film business.”
But why be “in the film business” if there’s no business to be in? Thomas has no explanation, but he says, with conviction and with the benefit of nearly 30 years in Cannes both producing and selling, “The budgets will be half the size, they have to downscale their operations, make better movies (if they can), get used to the fact that they feasted too much on money that’s now gone, like European pay TV, but they’ll be back.”
Theory Two I call the “‘Fearless’ Film Phenomenon,” as in the Peter Weir film “Fearless,” where survivors of a plane crash confront their guilt, anxiety, depression and exhilaration at having survived an event that wiped out friends and strangers.
Lew Rywin, producer of Roman Polanski’s Cannes Fest competition film “The Pianist,” concurs with that analogy, especially in relation to his home turf, Poland. “The reason that the Polish film business collapsed in the last year is because we were the last car on the train wreck that wiped out all the train cars in front of us first,” Rywin says with classic Polish cheer.
Rywin’s analogy suggests that the merriment you see in Cannes is classic DAPSS, or Delayed Accounts Payable Stress Syndrome. Everyone is happy to be alive, filled with hope that next year will be better, that the bitter memories will become more distant. And they know that the accountants waiting back home screaming “YOU ONLY GOT WHAT FOR THAT TERRITORY?!?!” are a meager threat in comparison to the chaos they’ve survived.
Theory Three, the “Rebellion Against God” theory, comes courtesy of Harry Gittes, producer of helmer Alexander Payne and thesp Jack Nicholson’s Cannes Competition pic “About Schmidt.”
“All independent producers face one daunting fact,” says Gittes in the ominous tones of an Old Testament prophet. “Forget going to ‘the studios.’ There is only one studio. There is only one studio chief. There is only one studio marketing boss. There is only one studio head of development. They all think exactly alike and want exactly the same thing. So you either make what they want or you’re doomed.”
Perhaps Gittes has nailed it.
Cannes is that forsaken land East of the Studio Eden. While it may be Hell, with its wine, women, and Mediterranean views, it still beats Burbank.