EXCLUSIVE– Mark Gill is back on the Croisette in Cannes for the 21st consecutive year, a week after shuttering his 4-year-old indie, the Film Department — and full of optimism.

“My sense is that there’s a lot more activity and a lot less fear than the last few years,” he told Variety on Friday. “In 2009, it was as if someone had dropped a neutron bomb on the Croisette. Now I’m seeing a lot more of what I’d call indie tentpoles, projects that have budgets of $40 million and up.”

Gill’s been taking meetings this week about another gig, preferably one that doesn’t involve repeating the same challenge he had at Film Department, which fell victim to its own financing structure amid a brutal recession.

“I’m a remedial investment banker so I don’t want to spend 18 months again raising capital,” he said. “I want to get back to doing what I love, which is making movies.”

Gill said he and co-founder Neal Sacker obtained the rights this week to the dozen Film Department projects. Of those 12, the farthest along is “Good People,” with Tobey Maguire attached to star and Niles Arden Opley (who helmed the original Swedish-language “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) directing; it’s based on Marcus Sakey’s novel about a couple in debt from fertility treatments.

“The last six months were pretty brutal but Neal and I still get along well,” he said. “We’re hoping to stay in business together.”

Gill and Sacker, who met while working for Miramax in the late 1990s, cited the banking meltdown as the key reason their business model — making quality films with recognizable stars for under $50 million — failed as studios stopped paying the license fees for such pics in the wake of the credit crunch. The Film Department financed and produced “Law Abiding Citizen,” which grossed $133 million; it’s in talks to find third parties to distrib its two other completed pics: romantic comedy “The Rebound,” starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Justin Bartha, and “A Little Bit of Heaven,” a love story toplining Kate Hudson.