What: Festival de Cannes & Marche du Film
When: May 11-22
Where: Cannes, France
Who: about 30,000 film bizzers from more than 100 countries
Weblinks: www.cannes.fr

Next week, thousands of industryites will descend upon the French Riviera for some serious dealmaking days and, let’s be real, a lot of Bellini-infused nights.

Nothing new, right? Yet as sales agents finalize contracts on films to rep, and buyers make their pre-market pitstops at one-sheet-wallpapered offices around Los Angeles and London, there’s a distinct air of excitement about the upcoming mart.

“It’s not a question of ‘Am I going to be busy in Cannes?’ I am going to be busy,” says Summit Entertainment chief Patrick Wachsberger. “The appetite is quite enormous to find the right product.”

Adds Media 8’s senior VP, worldwide distribution, Brian O’Shea, “People are hungry for theatrical product. Clients came to me more than a month before the festival to have meetings in L.A.. They’re pinpointing films they’re interested in and they’re focused.”

Buyers are more confident and overseas markets are on an upswing, but there are just a select few suppliers that can offer the films theatrical buyers seek.

Miramax used to be one of those suppliers. But with the recently announced divorce from Disney and uncertainty over how the Weinsteins (or their erstwhile company) will reformulate, the brothers’ presence on the Croisette is expected to be more low key. Company sources say the pair will be in Cannes with a small staff and they’ll be selling territories on sci-fi thriller “Pulse,” from a Wes Craven script, and Elmore Leonard adaptation “Killshot,” helmed by John Madden.

Meanwhile, several vendors, including Arclight, Lions Gate Intl., Media 8, Mandate Pictures (formerly Senator Intl.) and Nu Image/Millennium Films, are stepping up with bigger theatrical-level films.

Lions Gate Intl., for instance, has $60 million WWI drama “Fly Boys” on its sales slate. Nu Image has a half-dozen bigger-budget pics to talk about, such as $40 million Nicolas Cage-starrer “Wicker Man” and Bruce Beresford’s $35 million “The Contract,” with John Cusack and Morgan Freeman, now in pre-production. And in production are Richard Donner’s $55 million “16 Blocks,” featuring Bruce Willis and Mos Def; and Brian De Palma’s “The Black Dahlia,” a $68 million pic starring Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank.

Meanwhile, the stalwarts that have been supplying studio-level fare to foreign shores for many years (Summit, New Line and Focus Features included), also have plenty of projects in their pipelines.

New Line’s worldwide distribution and marketing topper Rolf Mittweg says his company has its biggest and most varied slate headed for Cannes this year. And Summit is repping selected rights on Paramount’s “Babel” (starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) as well as Un Certain Regard contender “Down in the Valley,” with Edward Norton; it also has Atom Egoyan’s competish entry “Where the Truth Lies.”

Summit’s Wachsberger, who says that he’ll have some major pic announcements closer to market time, has already sold out major territories on Tom Tykwer’s “Perfume” (DreamWorks recently nabbed North American rights).

CAA’s indie packaging department, meanwhile, reports that it has put together upwards of 20 go-projects since November’s American Film Market. All are private equity combos with foreign sales components, many of which have yet to be announced formally.

Says DreamWorks’ prexy and chief operating officer Rick Sands, “A lot of movies are being made and they’re movies that studios are going to be involved in.” (Ex-Miramaxer Sands also will be in Cannes for a few days.)

That’s good news for overseas buyers who are demanding new, high-level product. But even with the lower dollar making U.S. acquisitions cheaper for them, there are still some rough spots to be worked out.

For the bigger territorial distribs, tentpoles continue to top wishlists — with stipulations.

“We want big, attractive Hollywood pictures but at a reasonable price,” insists Japanese buyer Takeo Hisamatsu, Shochiku’s managing director. “Hollywood pictures are getting tougher and tougher, with higher and higher minimum guarantees. We take more than $10 million in risk per picture. We pour so much manpower and energy into them. But even if you have a hit, you have to pay huge overages. It takes a high risk to get a low return.”

For Japan and other territories, releasing local (read: more affordable) product has been a way out of this bind. And for many distribs, it’s become about finding smaller-level U.S. fare at a price.

Notes Lions Gate Intl. prexy Nick Meyer, “They’re looking for value opportunities. Buyers are becoming so sophisticated. Information flow is such that they really know what is going on. And they’ll just say, ‘That’s too expensive.'”

“Unknown,” an ICM package, is an example of a smaller pic that’s been able to rack up presales off its script and cast alone.

Pic toplines Jim Caviezel and Greg Kinnear in a yarn reminiscent of “Reservoir Dogs” and “The Usual Suspects.” GreeneStreet’s sales chief Cedric Jeanson, who started repping “Unknown” at the Berlin Film Festival, says buyers moved fast after reading the script.

“It’s a great thriller with a marketing hook and it’s not too expensive,” he explains.

GreeneStreet locked in sales to three major territories and a slew of more minor ones right out of the gate.

If there’s a strand of films that is popular with auds around the world these days, it’s the horror thrillers.

“What I’m hearing from my clients is that these genre pictures are working,” says Media 8’s O’Shea, “that’s why (sales) companies are moving towards genre. They hear the marketplace calling for it.”

“There’s a rabid interest in that product,” adds Mali Kinberg, head of international sales and distribution at Mandate Pictures, which has a separate division devoted to horror called Ghost House Pictures. “Success of horror films recently is driving a lot of business.”

Along with “The Grudge 2,” the shingle has an untitled Pang brothers project headed for production this year, as well as Sebastian Gutierrez’s vampire pic “Rise,” shooting in June.

“Horror all over place right now is making it incredibly important for buyers to suss out what’s quality versus other product,” Kinberg says. “There are very few films period, horror or otherwise, that can do theatrical business.”

A lot of these new films were introduced in Berlin, which, with the disappearance of AFM from the first part of the year, has become a bona fide market.

“We found it to be a very good market for prebuys,” says First Look Media’s senior VP, worldwide sales and distribution, Liz Mackiewicz. She’ll be making sales on horror pic “The Breed,” helmed by Wes Craven protege Nick Mastandrea and featuring Michelle Rodriguez and Taryn Manning. (Pic is a product of First Look’s new deal with U.S. homevid powerhouse DEJ.)

“Homevideo is giving theatrical buyers more confidence with their prebuys, they know they have a fallback position with their DVD, and even free- and pay-TV have come back,” she continues. “It’s a really interesting time right now. I feel like we are out of the doldrums.”