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HanWay Films’ Gabrielle Stewart on What Independent Distributors Look for in Acquiring Films

London-based sales and finance house HanWay Films, which was set up almost 20 years ago by Oscar-winning producer Jeremy Thomas, and is aligned with Thomas’ production company Recorded Picture Company, is in Cannes with four films in the festival’s official selection, led by Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” and John Cameron Mitchell’s “How to Talk to Girls at Parties.” Variety spoke to HanWay’s managing director, Gabrielle Stewart.

What sets HanWay apart from other film companies, and defines it?

It’s a big company that is privately owned, and has never, in all its history, gone through a year without profit. Its taste has very much been defined by the fact it is headed up by a very successful filmmaker, Jeremy Thomas, and it has always been known as a filmmaker-friendly company. We have always followed certain filmmakers’ work and been bold in our choices.

Hanway and RPC [Recorded Picture Company] bleed into each other, so you have an amazing financing team that is headed up by [HanWay’s deputy chairman] Peter Watson, who has been working alongside Jeremy for so many years and was a co-founder of HanWay. So they have the expertise, because of setting up all of Jeremy’s films, to help other producers navigate the murky waters of film finance, and help put together very creative finance plans across Europe.

How has the independent film market changed?

The very obvious, generic star packages [that look good] on paper no longer necessarily work at the box office; the generic is consumed online at home [on streaming platforms]. If you want to get people to go to a cinema, you really need to have something special, distinctive; it’s got to be an event, something that people talk about.

So this could be a golden era for us, because we occupy that sweet spot. When you see films like “Moonlight,” “Whiplash,” “Brooklyn” and “Carol” doing so well — and two of those are ours — we are in that spot of making films for a price with great filmmakers; films that are bold and distinctive; and those are the films that are working.

What do independent distributors look for when acquiring films?

As I said, they are looking for something that stands out. It’s no longer a business driven by DVD, and often not that driven by TV either, so theatrical has to work. If you are in the independent space you have got to event-ize your film and have something special, which is why we feel “The White Crow” really stands out. There has been so much buzz around this title: the pedigree is incredible — Ralph Fiennes directing, David Hare writing, Gabrielle Tana producing — but also it’s about dance and Rudolf Nureyev. We have a famous dancer, Sergei Polunin, in the film; big stars from several country… we just announced Laurent Lafitte, who is a great star in France. So you have got to build your film into something that is an event.

How do you take advantage of having a film selected in a major festival?

There is no better launch pad for a film than Cannes when it works. It is a festival that is followed by the world, and for independent film to have the support of that platform to launch a film is exceptional. The studios can spend millions to get their worldwide release into the media but for an independent film Cannes is a real opportunity. The talent is always happy to come to Cannes, so you can take advantage of that [to generate publicity]. Also it is an opportunity to bring all the partners from every corner of the globe into one place with the talent, the filmmakers and the marketeers, and plan the international release of the film.

What is your favorite Cannes anecdote?

There are so many stories about how strict Cannes is about the dress code. I remember once James Schamus taking off his bow tie and giving it to Ang Lee, because [Lee] was having a problem getting on the red carpet, and then [a bow tie] was acquired from the crowd somewhere [for Schamus].

Where is your favorite place to eat in Cannes?

Tetou

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