The return to business at the Cannes Film Market hasn’t necessarily marked the return to business as usual, as sluggish foot traffic and empty stalls in the Palais des Festival can attest. But AGC Studios CEO Stuart Ford says the past year has hardly dimmed his confidence in the indie film business.

“The independent financing and sales marketplace is still an incredibly fertile ground to finance content at a significant level,” he said. “It’s a very attractive business model, and it’s a very efficient business model.”

Ford appeared Saturday at the Cannes Film Market as part of an international film finance forum hosted by Winston Baker to discuss how the worlds of film finance and distribution will emerge from the uncertainty of the pandemic year.

“It has been a tremendously difficult period for international distributors internationally,” said Ford. “It’s been a period where changes that were already very much afoot in the international industry have been accelerated and may well lead to a new normal as we come out of the pandemic, back to whatever the new normal actually looks like.”

Nowhere has that flux been more evident than in the streaming industry, whose explosive growth in the past year was largely fuelled by cinema closures and the need of restless homebound audiences to find fresh forms of entertainment.

Coming out of the pandemic, the theatrical business model—already under threat pre-pandemic—looks even more uncertain, leaving indie distributors to grapple with how to build a profitable business model around a film’s release.

Ford stressed that “diversification will be the key,” with many indies already shifting away from a “core business” built around theatrical and home entertainment release to a “slightly more rounded” model that incorporates film and TV production as well as theatrical releasing.

The technological shift that spurred the streaming boom has also had an upside for the indie movie biz. “Virtual markets have been an absolute game-saver for the independent industry,” Ford said. Still, he praised the face-to-face encounters of physical markets like the Cannes Marché as the “connective tissue” holding the industry together. “I think we could happily live with two [physical markets] a year, and perhaps a couple of virtual markets each year.”

Two years ago, AGC Studios launched Roland Emmerich’s $140 million sci-fi blockbuster “Moonfall” on the Croisette, which the company subsequently financed “almost entirely out of the independent space,” said Ford.

“In the space of 10 days we came to Cannes, and we absolutely built the entire financial and distribution foundation for that commercial venture in 10 days, start to finish, $140 million, and that’s distributed worldwide,” said Ford. “That’s incredibly efficient.”

This year Ford has been bolstered by his time on the Croisette, even on a somewhat downbeat year. “It was incredibly helpful, and has been very helpful, because this is a slightly more sedately paced festival than usual, to have the time to sit down and really listen to what’s going on with [my partners’] business and in their marketplaces amidst this year or 18 months of huge change and challenges for everybody,” he said. “It’s very important for me to understand what’s actually happening out there.”

Speaking to Variety after the event, Ford added that there were encouraging signs of life in an otherwise low-key market. “All the major U.S. buyers are here for all the competition entries, and they’re active. There have been deals,” he said. “Obviously, for the international buyers we had the virtual market two weeks ago, but I get the impression there’s plenty of follow-through going on here. Generally, I think that the wheels are turning, and this has been a really constructive exercise.”