Cannes buyers sing the blues

Finished pix for U.S. in short supply

CANNES — This year’s Cannes Film Festival was the coming-out party for a new generation of indie distribs, with HBO and New Line’s Picturehouse, a newly expanded Rogue, the Weinstein Co. and Bauer Martinez all using the event as their launching pads.

Their intended theatrical release slates total more than 60 movies — a nice fat number for eager filmmakers. But are there enough marketable pics to go around?

For years, the festival circuit has been a buyer’s market. An influx of new distribs could change things, returning a measure of power to indie filmmakers and the people who sell their projects.

That wasn’t the case here. Even with several new domestic companies, bidding was sluggish when it happened at all.

“It’s slow, but it’s because the films aren’t there,” said Picturehouse topper Bob Berney.

It’s not unusual for Cannes to see a dozen finished-film pickups for U.S. release. This year, there were only two by May 19, both by Sony Pictures Classics. The shingle bought North America and other territories on competition title “Hidden” and out-of-competition title “Merry Christmas.”

Buyers liked Woody Allen’s “Match Point,” but balked at the $7 million asking price for North America. The price was said to be dropping and SPC was also in the hunt on that pic.

Atom Egoyan’s competition pic “Where the Truth Lies” received polite inquiries from buyers, but no one showed sufficient enthusiasm for producer Robert Lantos to make a deal.

In the Cannes market, Universal bought Brian De Palma’s star-studded “The Black Dahlia” from Millennium. Demi Moore’s comeback pic, “Half Light,” didn’t elicit the same interest.

Although buyers complained many of the films just weren’t very good, indies can afford to be choosy. They’ve found ways to ensure their slates don’t rise and fall on the fates of the festival circuit.

David Linde tells Variety Rogue is expanding its brand and beefing up its film slate for the next several years, with a development roster of more than 30 titles. Rogue also will be adding some key execs while Linde increases his duties with the label.

Similarly, when Picturehouse announced on the third day of the festival that it was open for business, the shingle had already assembled an eight-picture release slate.

The Picturehouse lineup starts July 22 with an HBO Films production, Gus Van Sant’s Cannes competition entry “Last Days.”

Other entries include productions and co-prods from its corporate parents as well as pickups like “Fur” starring Nicole Kidman and domestic acquisitions like Israel’s “Ushpizin” and Raymond De Felitta’s “The Thing About My Folks,” written and produced by and starring Paul Reiser.

“Two minutes after seeing it, Bob wanted to do it,” Reiser said. However, with Berney in the process of leaving his Newmarket post for Picturehouse, the deal didn’t close until just a week before Cannes.

Meanwhile, even the press-hungry Weinstein brothers stopped short of buying any finished pics while making their Cannes debuts.

Instead, they announced a half-dozen titles for which they’d acquired North American rights in previous weeks. These include Tribeca preem “Transamerica,” which stars Felicity Huffman as a pre-op transsexual, and “Stormbreaker,” a pic from Capitol Films based on the bestselling series of kids’ novels.

The Weinsteins also screened 20 minutes of Dimension-MGM production “The Brothers Grimm” and announced plans to promote the Rolling Stones at Giants Stadium.

Rainbow Media now is backing the Weinsteins’ purchases in order to build a library that both companies would own.

Though it didn’t happen here, with so many hungry new banners, bidding wars could escalate exponentially at Toronto and Sundance next year.

“The worst-case scenario is we’ll screen something we all want,” says one studio subsid’s topper. “Then, it’s going to get crazy.”