Bursting at the screens

Crowded market feels the effects of AFM's date switch

The Cannes fest’s market, Marche du Film, is bursting at the seams.

Most of the best screening slots were sold out in February. Buyers and the number of registrants overall are on the rise. And the market’s main exhibition halls, the Palais and Riviera, are stuffed to the gills, this year squeezing in about 40 new companies.

“We had to fill the Palais more and the basement is a bit more crowded,” admits Marche topper Jerome Paillard.

To ease squeeze, an underground extension from the Riviera out to the gardens in front of the Majestic hotel is in the works and set to open in 2006 or 2007.

As for the screenings, Paillard expects the number of unspoolings to edge toward 1,500 this year, with many more market premieres than in years past (some 600). “It looks to be a very incredible year — it’s enormous compared to any year,” he says. “I think we’re seeing the impact of the move of the American Film Market to November. Now there’s six months between film markets and there’s a lot of product that needs to be sold. The pressure seems to be mostly on finished films that were just completed.”

While Paillard admits the Berlin Film Festival benefited from a February without AFM this year, sales companies weren’t able to screen many market films there.

At Cannes, on top of the market-only films, almost all of the nonstudio pics (with sales agents) playing in the festival have market screenings, says Paillard. “I’d say 90% of festival films also book market screenings.”

As the emphasis at the fest is very often on high art, the Cannes market can be a great hunting ground for acquisition execs looking for slightly more commercial fare. Prior years yielded films such as “Bend It Like Beckham.”

“Years ago, when I was winding down at Lions Gate, we saw ‘Lantana’ in the market,” says Mark Urman, ThinkFilm’s head of U.S. distribution. “It wasn’t in the festival, but I thought it was better than three-quarters of the films in tuxedo country.”

This year, on top being at Cannes to buy films, Urman’s company will trot out its new sales division at the market, with a lineup including Sundance doc faves “Murderball” and “The Aristocrats.”

Paillard, meanwhile, has high hopes that the first Wednesday of the market (May 11) — the festival’s opening night — will become a more popular day for buyers to sample some of the market films. Last year, the mart skedded about 30 screenings the first Wednesday. The fest chief anticipates that figure to double.

At three weeks before the start of the fest, overall participation at the Cannes market was up by 8%, to 6,790 registrants, compared with the same time last year. The buyers tally stood at 1,340 vs. 1,223 in 2004.

The number of companies jumped by 15% to 2,541; however, a change in registration rules accounts for much of that increase. Individual market badges were introduced this year for S299 ($390). “Before, companies were obliged to buy the badges at S840,” says Paillard. “For small companies, that was quite difficult. We thought it was better to go to individual rates.”

Companies hail from more than 70 countries, with new participants from Jordan, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Senegal, Vietnam and Nigeria this go-round.

The market’s Producers Network, introduced last year, will have about the same number of participants. Paillard says he’s comfortable with capping it at 500, keeping it a more quality experience for all involved. “I think we reached about the right size last year with 480. If we get more, we are afraid we’ll have a less convivial environment.”

Another program that was inaugurated last year, the Shorts Corner, is expected to have about 600 works on offer, with the lion’s share coming from France, Britain and the U.S. Housed in the Palais basement, there will be twice as much space compared with last year for 15 interactive screening terminals and a theater for shorts programs.

“The next challenge,” says Paillard, “is the Web site (CannesMarket.com).” Good thing, then, that the Marche just received financial support from the European Commission to employ a team to update the site year round.