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Cannes Marche Turns 60 With Pulse on the Future of the Film Biz

Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, the Marché du Film has a long history of reflecting trends in the larger film industry while reacting to the realities of the moment.

Indeed, when the festival organizers created the Marché in 1959, they hardly invented the idea of a market. Ever since the first edition of Cannes in 1946, industry professionals had always been doing business on the Croisette. For the first decade of the festival’s life, the distributors, sales agents, foreign buyers and international financiers all signed their contracts and presented their projects off-site, often in rented storefronts along the Rue d’Antibes.

By the end of the 1950s, because so many industry professionals were coming to town uniquely for business, Cannes functionally had an existing market component; all the festival organizers had to do was to make it official, give it the Cannes stamp of approval and bring the proceedings under one roof. The Marché du Film was born.

By the early 1990s, a lot of that action escaped back into the wild. “Back then, it was pretty much vendor stands in the basement of the Palais; there were porno stands and the like, and it was not very glamorous,” reflects Marché du Film director Jerome Paillard. “What’s more, much of the activity did not happen in the Palais. Many of the big companies set up offices in the hotels and apartment buildings, and weren’t really integrated into the market.”

Another longtime attendee agrees. “There was a lot of swanning up and down the beach [from meeting to meeting],” recalls Jean Prewitt, president of the Independent Film and Television Alliance. “The focus was really at the Carlton, and you had [other people set up at] the Majestic and Martinez, so you just walked up and down, and up and down, all day long.”

When Paillard took over in November 1995, he confronted a challenge similar to the one faced by his predecessors: incorporating the various independent parties back into the festival’s sphere. A one-time math major with an MBA, Paillard looked to data systems for a possible solution. While the festival could not unite the various companies under one roof, it could develop a comprehensive index that offered a full screening schedule while centralizing and sharing the information of all parties present.

“It worked right away,” says Paillard. “We told the people in the hotels that we were enlarging the scope of the market, and simply asked them to sign up. [Now] film buyers knew they were at a market. A buyer would not have to piece together information from 10 different places in order to figure out what films were playing and when.

“And just like that, the number of participants substantially increased. That’s how we started. The idea was to no longer restrain the event to what we thought it should be. Instead, we took a step back and tried to integrate everyone who was already there.”

The early 2000s saw two major advances. One was the inauguration of the Riviera and Lérins pavilions, which drew the lion’s share of attendees from the nearby hotels and back into the Palais.

More consequentially, however, was the digital revolution. Throughout the late ’90s, Paillard’s methodical index migrated from print to CD-ROM to a website called CannesMarket.com. The resource moved online at the peak of the dotcom bubble, a fortuitous bit of timing that offered developers the means and partnerships to mount this project on an ambitious scale. And by 2001, the site hosted so much professional information that it became an invaluable resource for other markets as well.

“It continued to develop,” reflects Paillard, “and at one point our friends from AFM and EFM said, ‘We get that you’re ahead of us, but if the people attending our markets will use your site, could you at least get rid of the word Cannes?’ So we gave it a neutral name, and that’s when we created Cinando.”

Cinando’s steady growth and continued importance reflects the current realities of the global film industry, where all parties need more information than ever before, where the lines of communication never close and deals are made all year long. But even in this supercharged digital age, physical markets play an invaluable role.

“In terms of the point of sale, it is true that you can conclude or start sales throughout the course of the year,” notes Jean Prewitt, who oversees the American Film Market, “but nothing can concentrate the energy as much as having a defined location. You cannot underestimate the ongoing significance of having the whole industry come together at these events, to test out their own perceptions about what’s valuable, what’s important, what other people are seeing and how they’re pricing it.”

“Coming to Cannes has many benefits,” says Paillard. “First is the fact that everyone is here. As [the late MPAA topper] Jack Valenti used to say, ‘If you are not in Cannes, you are out of game.’ [And] I think the quality of our offering and our services available count for something as well. With so many people attending the Marché, people know that they will find a panel of opportunities here, linked to their specific interests and needs.”

The numbers are impressive. For the 4,000 titles brought to market this year, the Marché du Film will host 1,500 screening in its 34 unique projection rooms, half of which are in the Palais. Last year, they had 12,400 attendees, a figure they to hope to grow in 2019.

To do so means evolving beyond their traditional base. Apart from providing amenities and information, there’s only so much a market can offer its buyers and sellers. Other professionals, on the other hand, have more extensive requirements.

“The market has evolved to better include producers,” continues Paillard. “They come looking for financing, co-production partners, or to simply find projects. They don’t have stands, and are a lot more mobile. They have more time, and more open questions, unlike sales agents and distributors, who come with firm objectives and packed schedules.”

And so the Marché has pushed to lure that new demographic, creating networking and workshop events, and hosting conferences about financing and technology. By developing these new programs based on analysis of their own internal data, market organizers can effectively alert the wider industry to growing trends in the film business.

Take documentaries, for example. Ten years ago, Paillard and his team noticed that the percentage of docs brought to market began to tick up. So in 2012, they introduced Doc Corner, a networking venue around which doc producers could rally.

The simple act of creating and consolidating this new space spurred additional interest, which led to more attendance, which led to more targeted events, which ultimately resulted in more docs being brought to market.

This interplay of reactivity and proactivity has been the hallmark of the Marché du Film from its very beginning, though Paillard might slightly dispute the choice of words.

“I think we’ve been more anticipatory than reactive,” he notes. “We’ve always tried to stay a step ahead of demand, which has sometimes proved difficult. The strength of routine has always been particularly strong in the film business. So it takes a lot of time and effort in order to propose new initiatives and
new tools.”

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