Cannes Market Celebrates Decades of Legendary Parties, Deals and More

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As the Cannes Film Festival celebrates its 75th anniversary, the concurrent Marché marches into its 63rd year (there were always deals done during the festival, but the powers that be made it official in 1959). The wilder, oft-times disreputable sister of the more sedate, ergo, more esteemed, official festival, there’s no shortage of tales when it comes to the Cannes Market.

There’s no better place to start than Cannon’s “go-go” boys: Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. Cannon flew 18 staffers to the 1986 festival and took over the Martinez Hotel, encircling it with bodyguards. Cannon’s endless line of posters along the Croisette made the late critic Roger Ebert dub that year the “Cannon Film Festival.”

“Golan [was] one of the last free-wheeling dealmakers at an event where a lot of people would like to be capitalist buccaneers, but few have the courage or the capital,” wrote Ebert. “People still talk about the time Golan had lunch with Jean-Luc Godard at the Majestic Hotel and wrote out a contract on a table napkin, committing Godard to make a Cannon version of ‘King Lear,’ with a screenplay by Norman Mailer … [when] Golan proudly displayed the napkin at the [Cannes] press conference … one journalist suggested that it would probably bring in more money than the movie.”

In the 1980s, the Marché was all about eye-watering deals. David Garrett, now Mister Smith Entertainment topper, remembers buying a package of 65 films from Cannon, “some of course with Chuck Norris. We signed and announced the deal jointly in the trades. I popped back to their suite at the end of the market to say thanks. Yoram said ‘Hi’ and shook hands and I thought that was that. Only to be told by a lackey on my way out that Cannon had sold the exact same package to our U.K. competitor. ‘Why the fuck did Yoram shake my hand then?’” Garrett had demanded. “ ‘Oh, he just thought he was saying goodbye…’”

Companies on the make, such as Palace Pictures, the London-based indie production and distrib powerhouse of the 1980s, maximized their impact on the Croisette despite tight budgets. In the case of Palace, run by Nik Powell and Steve Woolley, it was “how low can you go.”

PR exec Angie Errigo recalls Powell taking her to one side, having spotted her with press at a hotel, and warning her, “I hope you’re not buying journalists any drinks in these places, because it’s far too expensive. Take them to the back streets, they’re much cheaper.”

Discovering and acquiring market films that might prove to be hits was the life blood of many indie distribs in the 1980s and 1990s. Woolley and the steely filmmaker David Leland caught a market screening of a little-known Italian film called “Cinema Paradiso” long before awards and fame. “There were three people in the market screening,” recalls Woolley. “By the time we’re halfway through the movie, I’m quietly sobbing into the side of my hand. [I] caught a glimpse of David’s face, and tears were streaming down his cheeks.”

There were always over the top parties. The crème de la crème was Carolco’s 20th birthday party at the Hotel du Cap in 1995. More than any other indie since the Marché’s inception, Carolco had outsized form. Launched by Andy Vajna and Mario Kassar, the company super-charged the indie market by producing some of the biggest star-driven vehicles in the market, including the “Rambo” series, “Total Recall,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” “Basic Instinct” and “Cliffhanger.”

Paid for in hard cash, even the Hotel du Cap had seen nothing quite like the Carolco bash. There were rivers of Champagne, and every luxury item of food imaginable. And while everyone was chowing down, the “Ride of the Valkyries” started to pump across the Cote D’Azur. Three jets swooshed across the bay with “Happy Birthday Carolco” signs, followed by thousands of fireworks.

They celebrated too soon. Carolco filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy only months later, in November 1995.