Cannes Build-Back Promises Riches, Discovery & Deals

Cannes Film Festival Placeholder
Courtesy of FIF/Cannes Film Festival

Sean Penn’s “Flag Day,” Leos Carax’s “Annette,” starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, and Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” with Frances McDormand and Timothée Chalamet, will provide star power at a 2021 Cannes Festival packed to overflowing with established and very often new European and world cinema arthouse talent.

The festival films will also drive much of Cannes’ business. Cannes’ business behemoth, a pre-sales market unveiling big indie projects — such as this year’s $60 million Vin Diesel vehicle “Muscle” — took place June 21-25 at the virtual Pre-Cannes Screenings.

“In some ways, Cannes this year has the opportunity to be the purest form of itself,” said Dylan Leiner at Sony Pictures Classics.

“Since the market was held virtually a couple of weeks before, festivalgoers will be able to focus on the programmed films almost exclusively without the distraction of a physical market, which so often favors splashy, large scale packages that grab headlines,” he added.

Yet deals will be done, or announced, at least, at Cannes 2021.

As big indie movie projects are put out not only to international distributors and studios but also to global streamers, the Pre-Cannes Screenings left major sales agents on big titles sifting through many often conflicting offers.

Sales on a clutch of Screenings high-rollers, led by Doug Liman’s “Everest” and Gerard Butler starrer “Greenland: Migration,” may be revealed during this week’s Cannes Marché du Film.

At the Cannes Festival, many big competition entries — “Annette,” “Benedetta,” “The French Dispatch,” “Flag Day,” “Red Rocket,” “Memoria,” “Paris 13th District,” “A Hero,” “Titane” — have distribution in major territories. Not all these deals have been announced.

“Nitram,” “Ahed’s Knee,” “Petrov’s Flu” and “The Worst Person In the World” could be the next to pop. “Drive My Car” and “Casablanca Beats” feature among other competition buzz titles.

Meanwhile, on many more films, sales agents will use Cannes to build buzz, via first look trailers, sneak peek screenings and first sales news — such as MUBI’s U.K. “Cow” pick-up — aiming to sell off of the momentum of an upbeat Cannes world premiere reception.

If you say, ‘It’s a film from Chad,’ that’s one thing. If you say, ‘It’s a film at Cannes,’ that means it’s a really good film,” said Films Boutique’s Jean-Christophe Simon in reference to its competition entry “Lingui, The Sacred Bonds,” from Mahamat-Saleh Haroun.

In parallel, directors, producers and sales companies in Europe, led by France whose sales agents represent 60% of titles selected for Cannes, will bringing onto the market new projects targeting the arthouse distributor clientele in attendance and working at Cannes.

Producers will pursue a broad brief. “I’ll be taking care of my films as I consider my job finished until the award process is totally over and meeting some other talents and close international partners,” said Charles Gillibert, producer of Cannes opener “Annette” and a second competition player, Mia Hansen-Love’s “Bergman Island,” with Tim Roth.

Having released films at the Pre-Cannes Screenings, sales agents will bring a slew of new films, primarily European and world cinema auteur fare, onto the market screening on-site at the Marché du Film.

95% of the films shown at market screenings at Cannes were not at the Pre-Cannes Screenings. Most, about 450 films, are market premieres, excluding the films in Cannes Festival selections, said Jérôme Paillard, Marché du Film executive director.

As of July 5, the Marché had 9,000 registered delegates, 60% attending on site at Cannes. “Registrations are still growing fast. We should reach our usual 10,000 Marché global attendance with physical attendance ending up at around 6,000, 50% of 2019 record figures of 12,000,” Paillard added.

The focus, as rarely before, will, however, be on the Festival lineup. Initial festival lineup reactions are very positive.

“This focus on films and filmmakers is what Cannes is all about, and with so many new filmmakers launching their films at the festival and the new Cannes Premiere section, this is an exciting build-back year,” Leiner said.

Most Un Certain Regard and Directors’ Fortnight titles and nearly all of Critics’ Week entries are first or second films, or narrative debuts.

In sidebars, “The Innocents” could prove a breakout. “Playground” and “Prayers for the Stolen” look on track to do well with critics. “Bloody Oranges” in Midnight Screenings may become a controversial title.

The stakes have never been higher. With arthouse cinema, only star auteurs and breakouts register any kind of significant international sales and theatrical box office.

And a recognizable name matters: IFC Films’ Arianna Bocco cites the films of Clio Barnard (“Ali & Ava”), Andrea Arnold (“Cow”), Joachim Trier (“The Worst Person in the World”), Arnaud Desplechin (“Deception”) and Francois Ozon (“Everything Went Fine”) as hot titles she’d like to catch.

For non-name auteurs, “If they don’t create value or strong identity from a film to another, it will be very difficult for them to keep doing films,” said Gillibert.

Chances to break out at Cannes often come once in a lifetime. There’s also a bigger picture. “The production business in general is booming the world over. You can’t get a production manager anywhere these days. They’re all basically working,” said Constantin’s Martin Moszkowicz. “That’s fantastic,” he added. “But it is only to a very, very limited part theatrical movies. It’s mainly of course, because of TV series and streaming gigs,” he cautioned.

“I think auteur cinema has an opportunity to reinvent itself as a place for experiment, enquiry,” said Cimarrón’s Hernán Musaluppi. Premium series direction can allow a commercial future for world cinema directors, he argued.

“Many of the directors we work with would willingly cross over to making drama series,” Simón added.

Cannes 2021 could be where some begin to present their credentials.