Mixed messages at Cannes market

Attendance, acquisitions cause coin confusion

On the second day of Cannes, the money side of the movie biz was sending mixed messages: While an unusually high number of early acquisitions were announced, offering the promise of prosperity, the market floor on the second day of selling was sparsely populated.

Yet not all is troubled on the Croisette.

Cannes Film Market topper Jerome Paillard said that as of Wednesday — opening day — there were 9,100 participants registered, although he expects that number to end up close to 10,000. That means there will only be 200 fewer participants than in 2008.

There are roughly 1,500 market screenings scheduled, about 30 fewer than last year.

Countries sending fewer people to the market include the U.S., with about 100 fewer attendees. But Paillard said the attrition wasn’t that bad, noting the number of exhibitors was about the same as last year.

“Companies still come to Cannes because the consequences of not showing up can be very damaging in terms of image,” he said. “A no-show definitely sends a warning signal throughout the industry.”

Going into the Cannes market, just a few titles are sparking buzz among buyers from the studio specialty labels and the bigger U.S. indie distribs. That could all change in a heartbeat, of course, if a fest or market title goes over well with auds.

Titles that American buyers will look at in particular include Ken Loach’s soccer pic “Looking for Eric.” Another title buyers are curious about is Alejandro Amenabar’s “Agora,” which will screen for the first time Sunday.

Among the market titles, buyers were eager to see footage of Neil Marshall’s “Centurion” and Grant Heslov’s “Men Who Stare at Goats.”

A couple of smaller distribs, meanwhile, have already sparked some acquisitions action.

IFC Films bought fest entry “Tales From the Golden Age” and market pic “The Red Riding Trilogy.”

And Sony Pictures Classics announced two acquisitions on Wednesday: Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon” and Jan Kounen’s “Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky.”

The two distribs have become the busiest buyers on the fest circuit, but several studio specialty arms will also need product for late 2009 and 2010.

The Cannes market was getting under way slowly Thursday, as most execs said the action was yet to come.

Several producers and sales agents were waiting for pic projects to come together, while some sales companies noticed an uptick in activity.

Salt’s Sam Horley reported that business was brisk. She was marveling at the fact that she managed to make a presale to Germany on British comedy “The Infidel.”

“I’m seeing buyers I haven’t seen in years,” she said. “All you need to sell a film is find a film that will sell.”

Horley said adding two reasonably priced comedies to her slate — she also has “I Was Bono’s Doppelganger” — has helped business. And, with “Infidel” currently shooting, she said buyers are more comfortable stepping up to the plate.

“Buyers are very, very wary of films that are not in production,” she said.

There was plenty of optimism despite the intermittent clouds covering the Croisette and the world’s ongoing financial woes.

As veteran producer-sales agent Robbie Little put it, “We’re in an economic recession and a technological revolution … but there’s opportunity!”

(Pamela McClintock contributed to this report.)