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Protagonist Pictures’ Mike Goodridge on ‘The Rider,’ ‘The Florida Project’

Protagonist Pictures, which is in its 10th year, has a stable of auteur thoroughbreds, including two films in this year’s Directors’ Fortnight. Recent festival hits include “Lady Macbeth,” “God’s Own Country” and “American Honey,” with upcoming fare including Clio Barnard’s “Dark River” and Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Cold War.” Mike Goodridge, CEO of the U.K.-based sales outfit, talks to Variety.

What are the highlights of your Cannes slate?

We have two American films in Directors’ Fortnight, one is Chloe Zhao’s “The Rider,” and the other is Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project,” starring Willem Dafoe. They are both really exciting filmmakers.

[“The Florida Project”] is Sean’s sixth film; “Tangerine,” “Prince of Broadway” and “Starlet” are his most famous films, and this is the next step up if you like. It is really exciting that he has joined the Cannes fraternity because “The Florida Project” is a really accomplished piece of work.

And Chloe, who did “Songs My Brothers Taught Me” — which was in Sundance and Cannes Directors’ Fortnight two years ago — has made a really beautiful film in “The Rider”; it’s a real heart-breaking, tear-jerking film; it’s an astonishing portrait of Middle America.

What makes Protagonist stand out from the other sales companies?

There are so many sales companies, but we like to think we have got a very strong brand; that we represent great filmmakers, exciting filmmakers. We are very supportive of filmmakers; we want to be a filmmaker-friendly company, and I think we have proved that. It’s our 10th year and over the years we have really supported new filmmakers, and have been behind really bold visions, and that’s what we stand for… Not uncommercial — we are always looking for films that have a commercial edge that will mean they will sell [and] will find audiences, because that’s what we want to do.

What are the leading independent distributors looking for?

We think they are looking for very strong directors, which is why when you are bringing a film by Andrea Arnold, Whit Stillman or Yorgos Lanthimos — these great auteurs [whose films] we have had in the past — they are very excited by those names; and we are also pioneering new filmmakers to build that club.

This year we have got Sean and Chloe; Clio Barnard’s third film, which is in post-production, “Dark River”; and Andrew Hulme’s second film, “The Devil Outside.” We think great filmmakers really speak to buyers and so we have always gone after great filmmakers first and foremost rather than actors or genres.

What are the challenges facing the international film industry?

A film that works is always going to find a market. If a buyer loves something they will buy it, and the kind of films we do always find buyers. That said, it is an incredibly challenging marketplace at the moment. The consumer is dictating how they watch films and the SVOD world has thrown everything into chaos. But there is still a need for great films and good storytelling, which is why — while we’ll have to adapt — there will always be an appetite for our films.

What do you look for when you are acquiring films?

For prestige films, festivals are a really important part of the business, and they continue to be so. We submit a lot of films to the major film festivals, and what we are looking for are films that will explode at a film festival. Like we had a film in Sundance called “God’s Own Country,” a first film by Francis Lee, which has no famous people in it, but it exploded out of Sundance.  We did incredible sales out of Sundance to international buyers — it was extraordinary.

Where is your favorite place to eat in Cannes?

Da Laura, L’Affable, La Brouette de Grand Mere.

What is your favorite Cannes anecdote? 

Too many. One of my favorites was watching a film in competition (not to be named), which was booed so roundly that by the end of the screening people were throwing fruit at the screen.

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