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Market roars back to life

Strong pics drive Cannes clout

A plethora of product, flash sales, bidding wars and muscular new markets in Russia and Latin America helped 2011’s Cannes kick in to high gear from the get-go as the Croisette saw its strongest market in years.

Early trading, at least on commercial titles, could be called spectacular.

Shopping two headline titles, Summit pretty well sold out Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Pompeii,” and Richard Kloos’ “Tarzan 3D,” both produced by Germany’s Constantin.

Buyers flocked to Lionsgate’s Meryl Streep starrer “Great Hope Springs,” Sierra/Parker seller “Ender’s Game” and “End of Watch,” toplining Jake Gyllenhaal, sold by Exclusive Media.

Also flying off of the shelves are Inferno’s “The Host,” IM Global’s “The Last Days of an American Crime,” which stars Sam Worthington, and James Wan’s “Spectre.” FilmNation’s untitled Oren Peli project, which it is fully financing, is doing good biz.

“It’s probably one of the best Cannes I’ve ever known,” said Ivan Boeing, at Brazil’s Imagem.

“We’re delighted at the volume and breadth of deals across multiple projects,” concurred IM Global topper Stuart Ford. “This market reflects the number of strong buyers in all major territories.”

Big business didn’t stop there: Focus Features Intl.’s $100 million plus “Cloud Atlas” is doing steady sales throughout the market; Exclusive Media’s “Snitch,” starring Dwayne Johnson also is attracting buyers’ attention.

“I’ve never seen so much product; good stuff too,” said Maria Grazia Vairo, at Italy’s Eagle Pics. “There is enough product to go around for everybody — for bigger and smaller players.”

By early in the second week, the wheeling and dealing remained strong. Inferno virtually sold out “The Host” by Sunday after intense bidding wars among major territories. The sales outfit was near ready to pack up its bags after the weekend.

International favorites included StudioCanal’s “The Last Photograph” and “Special Forces,” Pathe’s “The Iron Lady,” MK2’s “Something in the Air,” Le Pacte’s “Amazonia,” Spanish genre pics “Solo” and “Automata” from Vertice, and Film Factory’s “Inertia” and “Foosball.”

Wild Bunch’s “The Artist” and Stephen Frears’ “Lay the Favorite” sparked big buzz. HanWay’s “Seven Psychopaths” and “Great Expectations” sold strongly.

Cannes’ trading bravado is doubly remarkable given that the international market hasn’t really come back yet: DVD sales are in general decline, with TV deals difficult to snag.

“The current market situation is driven only by product,” says Constantin’s Martin Moszkowicz. People are buying because product is good, he said.

But longer-term factors are also at play.

Hollywood has largely ceded the ground for midbudget films. Yet around the world, deep-pocketed indie distribs still need tentpoles or star-studded medium-budget movies to compete for key playdates and drive TV deals.

With the majors out of the game, a new breed of neo heavy-hitters are stepping into the breach, some producing quasi-studio films, many with bold plans.

“The films we are representing, and level of deals we are closing here, are a real tribute to the high-end commercial ambitions we have for our company,” said StudioCanal’s Harold Van Lier.

Some emerging territories, moreover, have quite simply come to flower:

Russia’s Paradise/MGN alone picked up “Pompeii”, “Tarzan 3D”, “Switch” “End of Games” and four Focus titles, said Paradise/MGN’s Dasha Sterlikova.

Also, a new generation of directors who cut their teeth on local pics but don’t want the laborious trappings of a studio gig, are moving into higher-bracket English-language filmmaking.

And inventories simply need replenishing.

“Distributors’ pipelines were getting somewhat empty,” said Pathe’s Intl.’s Mike Runagall.

There are even new players among U.S. distribs, with FilmDistrict and Open Road increasing the competish, vying for product that in past markets may have taken longer to seal domestic deals.

At Cannes, FilmDistrict picked up Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis sci-fi “Looper” over the weekend while Open Road nabbed Robert De Niro and Jason Statham starrer “The Killer Elite.”

Just how long the boom will last is another question. One thing seems certain, however. Even five days before the fest ends, the Cannes 2011 market will go down as one to remember.

Nick Holdsworth and Nick Vivarelli contributed to this report.