MADRID — At Cannes in 2004, for the third year running, Spain bought fewer titles than any other major territory. But this year, it proved surprisingly lively. Why the turnaround?

Spanish indie distribution is finally on the upswing, bulwarked by several changes: new and niche players; the more market-driven bent of titles on sale; and sellers and distribs’ adaptation to tougher market realities, particularly an end to abundant TV sales.

Two newish distribs, DeAPlaneta and On Pics, are adding a competitive edge to the mainstream pre-sale market. Both are backed by big publishing concerns. Neither carries a large debt load from the collapse of pay TV in 2001, which left distribs holding scores of unsold titles.

On bought “Match Point” and is negotiating three other titles. DeAPlaneta made waves, grabbing “Michael Clayton” and inking a dozen-or-so other pickups, led by Paul Verhoeven’s “Winter Queen” and Richard Gere starrer “Monkey Face.”

Fortified by standout early 2005 B.O., two hardy survivors, TriPictures and Filmax, also stepped up — Filmax took “The Death and Life of Bobby Z,” “She’s the Man” and “Seven Swords,” while TriPictures is closing on three bigger Cannes titles.

Aurum picked up “Rise,” “The Best Man” and “Dragon Squad.” Other upstarts are plying niche markets, particularly on Asian titles, a bullish biz in Europe, betting their pickup prices against theatrical/DVD or DVD/TV returns. Xavier Catafal’s Isaan took “Shutter,” “Three Extremes,” “Dumplings” and the “Ong-Bak” team’s “Born to Fight.”

Beyond “L’Esquive” and its first pre-buy, Myriad’s “Copying Beethoven,” Notro closed 50 Fortissimo catalog titles for DVD/TV, of which “Mysterious Skin,” “The Overture” and “Electric Shadows” may see theatrical outings.

More commerical pix

Spanish distribs warmed to producers and sellers’ new market sensitivity. “Many director-driven titles at Cannes have slightly larger commercial potential,” says Wanda prexy Jose Maria Morales, who bought StudioCanal’s “Russian Dolls” and “Anthony Zimmer.”

Vertigo cherry-picked Cannes winners “The Child” and “Broken Flowers,” fest opener “Lemming” plus “Last Days” and “Le Temps qui reste.” Lolafilms took “Where the Truth Lies.”

Realistic pricing

“Prices are slowly adapting to Spain’s market realities,” says TriPictures prexy Felipe Ortiz. “Sellers are nearing reasonable asking prices,” echoes Baditri prexy Antoni Badimon.

This may reflect the budgetary range of sales product. Excepting “Risk Addiction: Basic Instinct 2,” with a reported $6 million Spanish pricetag, and Morgan Creek’s “The Good Shepherd,” Cannes had few big titles. But it boasted a wide range of classy, midrange, market-tailored pics. Bargaining is more flexible on middling pics. Buyers who balked at one pic’s asking price were able to turn elsewhere.