Cannes business stalwarts survive

International companies see sales

This year’s Cannes market again proves the Darwinian theory of survival, as the hedge-fund-backed guys have fallen away and returned power to the hands of those who are left.

International sales companies like Focus Features Intl., Mandate, Pathe, Studio Canal and Summit Entertainment are doing good business.

The most prolific buyers at recent festivals include IFC Films and Sony Pictures Classics. Both have announced deals here.

There also are key territories seeing more action, including France, Germany and the U.K.

As the fest and market near the halfway mark, a handful of titles that don’t have U.S. distribution are garnering interest.

One of the more buzzed-about titles — Alejandro Amenabar’s “Agora” — played for the first time Sunday, and while a distrib deal isn’t a slamdunk, the film has pedigree in its director and star Rachel Weisz.

Other movies generating interest among U.S. distribs include “The Prophet,” directed by Jacques Audiard and “Mother,” both of which played over the weekend.

Today, Lars Von Trier’s “Antichrist” screens, followed on Tuesday by Ken Loach’s “Looking for Eric.”

Bob Berney and Bill Pohlad’s new venture — which has yet to be named — announced the acquisition of Jane Campion’s “Bright Star” just as the festival got under way, likely meaning that the deal was in the works by the time Berney hopped on a plane for Cannes.

Many companies, which had grown accustomed to shelling out big bucks for festival pics, are skittish. Many of their high-profile buys in recent years ended up falling flat at the box office, unable to make up their cost.

Some may conclude that the lack of hot and heavy sales action is due to the economy, but in truth this year’s market isn’t so different from the past few years.

The business is changing. A big reason for the slowdown in the acquisitions market is that sales companies are moving into local production.

There are fewer buys of completed films, as many fringe players have fallen away and key buyers are more interested in presales or their own productions.

In the old days, a buyer would view a film, make a bid and firm a deal, all within a short timespan.

Now it’s more common for companies to lay the groundwork for a deal pre-fest, then announce it at Cannes, or else do the basics here and unveil the deal long after the fest has wrapped.