Cannes Underscores International Film Business Resilience

·14 min read

“In the old days, at some point when people were leaving [Cannes], you said, ‘Well, before you go, this has to be wrapped up,’” says Constantin’s Martin Moszkowicz. “Now it doesn’t have to be done this way anymore. You can basically say, ‘Well, we’ll do it on Zoom next week.’”

Running July 6-17, Cannes, the physical festival and parallel Marché du Film, is over, but dealing could stretch into high summer. Some studio deals could indeed take months to close.

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That said, to date, the 2021 Cannes Festival and Marché du Film did much to underscore the resilience of the international film business at least for its top-top players. Following, 10 takeaways:

Cannes Genre Consecration

The first outright win for a woman, Cannes’ 2021 Palme d’Or for “Titane” is also the first time the biggest fest prize in the world has gone to an out-and-out horror schlock fest. Other genre movies – Un Certain Regard’s “Lamb” and supernatural thriller “The Innocents” – proved standouts at the festival. Many of these genre films – Directors’ Fortnight’s “Medusa” for example – are made by women. Meanwhile, genre is ever more embraced as a market proposition. In June, Wild Bunch International and Capricci announced the launch of French genre production house Wild West. Studiocanal also looks to be warming to genre, bringing two titles onto the Cannes Virtual Market, horror thriller “Baghead” and “Bunker,” equal parts escape-game thriller and paranormal spinechiller. “There’s strong market appetite: In several territories, people still want to watch genre in theaters, in others, there’s strong platform potential,” says Studiocanal’s Chloé Marquet. Cannes is not a one-off either. “There’s a lot of genre on the way, and a lot of it is directed by women,” says San Sebastian’s José Luis Rebordinos.

Business ‘Resilience’

“What struck me was the resilience of the overall film business in general. Most, if not all of our clients, were partners two years ago before COVID-19. They’re still in business,” says Nicolas Brigaud-Robert at pan-European group Playtime, which is near to selling out the world on Cannes Competition title “Paris, 13th District.” “There’s still a big demand for movies of a certain caliber, and a certain type – action movies or genre – when the script is strong,” said Anton’s Cecile Gaget. “There aren’t enough action movies with stars, and directors and screenwriters who have a track record available to independent distributors,” she explains. “If your movie’s at a certain budget, there’s actually quite a lot of competition in the U.S. market, among not just the studios but also the younger and more nimble entities- the likes of Vertical, Saban, IFC, Neon – who are all buying for either day-and-date or a small theatrical [window] followed by pretty immediate digital release,” says Mister Smith Ent.’s David Garrett. This year’s Cannes is a case in point. Last decade, Cannes Film Markets would average about 50 domestic deal announcements per edition. 2021’s, over July 5-July 19, was not that far short, despite no concurrent pre-sales market.

The Joy of Reunion

Cannes pre-sales market, when U.S., U.K. and French companies bring huge projects onto the market such as this year’s Vin Diesel starrer “Muscles,” happened online at a June 21-25 Cannes Virtual Market. That meant some of the biggest market players were in Cannes, but to analyze the state of the business, such as Stuart Ford, who delivered a Winston Baker keynote – “the wheels are turning, and this has been a really constructive exercise,” he said of the Cannes Virtual Market.

– Or to meet and catch films. For everybody, it was a moving experience, giving a renewed sense of Cannes, and even, as “Cannes Uncut” co-creator Chris Pickard put it, a sense of self, as a Cannes attendee. “I can’t say it was really important business-wise, but it was exciting to be in a theater and fun, and very emotional, seeing the open air screenings on the beach and people being fascinated by cinema,” says Constantin’s Martin Moszkowicz.

Big Streamer Step-Back?

In the biggest first Cannes week sales news, Anton sold STX Gerard Butler starrer “Greenland: Migration” for a reported $75 million. It went with STX rather than a streamer because the company wanted to retain rights over IP, Gaget says. The jury’s still out as to whether streamers are stepping back from aggressive acquisition. “It’s safe to say that on pretty much every commercial title on the Cannes Virtual Market or real Marché du Film, at some point a streamer or streamers have made offers, not always for the whole world but at least for territories,” says Moszkowicz. FilmNation’s “Foe” was reportedly in exclusive talks with Amazon by the beginning of the festival. Other hot propositions could still go to platforms. On the whole, however, the streamers were not so overly aggressive as at Sundance. The may be proving more flexible. “You can now make deals with Hollywood studio streamers having sold some territories on a film,” says Brigaud-Robert.

Buzz Titles

Possible awards contenders premiering at Cannes take in Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” Asghar Farhadi’s “A Hero,” Justin Chon’s “Blue Bayou” and Eva Husson’s “Mothering Sunday,” says Variety’s Clayton Davis. “Drive My Car,” Cannes Competition’s best reviewed title – and, remarkably, a second 2021 triumph for Ryusuke Hamaguchi, whose “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” won a Berlin Grand Jury Prize – is rolling out first sales. Further competition breakouts, on which full sales have most probably not been announced, take in “The Worst Person in the World,” “Compartment No. 6,” “Red Rocket” and “Nitram.”

Titles popping outside competition include Korean air disaster thriller “Emergency Declaration,” playing out of competition; in Un Certain Regard, Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith starrer “After Yang,” “The Innocents” and “Playground”; and “Prayers for the Stolen,” “Hit the Road,” section winner “A Chiara,” Cannes Camera d’Or laureate “Murina” and “The Souvenir Part II” in Directors’ Fortnight. Critics’ Week’s “Zero Fucks Given” may also translate an upbeat critical reception into sales.

Saban Expands

In one of the Cannes’ boldest moves, Saban Films announced on June 24 that it was allying with five international distribution partners for Germany/Austria (Splendid), France (ACE Ent.), Scandinavia (Mis.Label), Spain (Key2Media) and Australia/New Zealand (Defiant Screen Ent.). During the Marché du Film, Saban announced it had acquired Bruce Willis starrer “Soul Assassins” for North America and these territories. The move allows the partners to at least come nearer to prices paid by platforms while dangling the possibility of a theatrical release, Saban Films president Bill Bromiley recognized to Variety. “In a perfect world,” the idea is to release simultaneously, maximizing marketing impact, he added.

“There are going to be certain situations where we go theatrical in territories outside of North America and not necessarily in North America,” Bromiley said. Flexibility, in an ever evolving distribution scene looks like the name of the game.

Birth of a New Arthouse Mini-Major: MUBI

No international buyer proved as active at Cannes as Efe Cakarel’s auteur film streaming service and theatrical distributor MUBI. In an extraordinary statement buying spree, MUBI has acquired rights to 11 Cannes titles, including many of the biggest, best-received or most eye-catching: “Benedetta,” “Memory,” “Annette,” “The Worst Person in the World,” and four of six Un Certain Regard winners: “Unclenching the Fists,” “Great Freedom,” “Lamb” and “Prayers for the Stolen.” The multi territory strategy to maximize purchasing power is not something new, Brigaud-Robert points out. That said, he adds, it is highly welcome.

Art Films: The Challenge

Cannes Festival selection is predominantly art-house, its Marché du Film market packed out by auteur movies. So rating only below COVID-19 at Cannes table-talk was the future of art film. “Art house movies are becoming harder and harder to fund because there are fewer places that exhibit them,” says Mister Smith Ent.’s David Garrett. “With the demise of DVD, there’s less of an afterlife for most titles. The streamers and subscription services will tend to focus on filmmaker-driven and awards-potential movies,” he adds. The most obvious solution is selection at a big festival, hoping for fulsome sales or a worldwide pick-up. In such a context, events such as Cannes are far more, not less vital for upscale industry, even if trading is a 24/7 business.

The Streaming Future for Upscale Films

If there’s something almost bad as the platforms buying everything, it’s their not buying anything at all. One key post-Cannes question, as Brigaud-Robert pointed out, will be how much that could change for Europe as E.U. regulation obliges all platforms to invest in countries’ series and films. “The deal that is offered to them, basically, is to invest in local production against a shortening of the window,” says Brigaud Robert. In certain territories, that may allow for more multi-platform distribution models in international that have proved successful in the U.S.

Will Cannes Ever Be Over?

It certainly isn’t over yet. More titles were brought onto the pre-sales market at the festival. Constantin was still in negotiations on a couple of titles, sales and acquisitions, late last week, says Moszkowicz. Given Cannes dealing began the week before the Cannes Virtual Market of June 21-25, trading has been going on a month. At this rate, some deals, especially across slates, may be announced at Venice or Toronto. “In terms of timing, deals today tend to take longer due to the virtual component which adds roughly one week prior and one week after the actual market,” says Gaget. Another bugbear, she added: a dearth of reviews: “Usually on key movies, we get about 10 reviews within 48 hours of their world premiere. This year that didn’t happen. On key territories the absence of reviews can handicap the sales process, notably in the U.S.”

Prayers for the Stolen - Credit: Credit: The Match Factory
Prayers for the Stolen - Credit: Credit: The Match Factory

Credit: The Match Factory

THE 10 BIG DEALS AT CANNES 2021

*Announced as the Cannes Festival opened, STX paid a reported $75 million for worldwide rights on Gerard Butler action sequel “Greenland: Migration,” sold by Anton and CAA Media Finance.

*Likewise sold by Anton, with Endeavor Content co-repping U.S domestic, “CURS>R,” another Virtual Market title, was picked up by Netflix.

*As Cannes opened, Amazon Studios was in exclusive talks for worldwide on sci-fi thriller “Foe,” from Garth Davis, one of the hottest Cannes Virtual Market packages, sold by FilmNation overseas and CAA Media Finance and UTA’s Independent Film Group for domestic.

*Apple inked a first-look deal with Russia’s AR Content, headed by Oscar-nominated producer Alexander Rodnyansky (“Beanpole,” “Leviathan,” “Loveless”).

*Studiocanal announced “Paddington 3,” “Role Play” with Kaley Cuoco, the Abby Ajayi-written “Bedroom Window,” a Liam Neeson “Cold Pursuit” sequel, plus the acquisition of Lailaps Films Germany (“Wild Republic”). It also revealed 50-plus sales deals on a Cannes Virtual market slate led by Jake Gyllenhaal and Vanessa Kirby survival thriller “Suddenly,” and “Baghead” with “The Witcher’s” Freya Allan.

*Mediawan and Leonine Studios unveiled the joint acquisition of Drama Republic (“The Honorable Woman,” Doctor Foster”), a major U.K. TV production banner, at the start of Cannes; at its end, Mediawan confirmed it had taken a majority stake in Hugo Selignac’s Chi-Fou-Mi, producer of “Bac Nord,” seen out of competition.

*Former WarnerMedia exec Iris Knobloch (pictured) is partnering with Artemis, backed by François-Henri Pinault, to launch I2PO with a €275 million ($325M) listing on Euronext Paris next week. Acquisition targets take in video, music and podcast streamers.

*Voltage Pictures swooped on international rights to Brain Goodman-directed action-thriller “Chase.” CAA co-reps domestic.

* ”Moonfall” backer AGC Studios launched supernatural thriller “Consecration” on the eve of the Cannes Marché du Film. Christopher Smith (“The Banishing,” “Detour”) directs, co-writes.

*Michelle Williams will play Henry VIII’s sixth wife in Karim Aïnouz’s “Firebrand,” which he calls a Tudor psychological horror film. Gabrielle Tana (“Philomena,” “The Dig”) of Magnolia Mae Films produces.

Paddington 2 - Credit: Screenshot/YouTube
Paddington 2 - Credit: Screenshot/YouTube

Screenshot/YouTube

U.S. DISTRIBUTION DEALS

Made, or at least announced, over July 5-19:

*Cannes busiest buyer, MUBI took North America, in multi-territory deals, on competition entries “Lingui, The Sacred Bonds,” plus “Unclenching the Fists,” an Un Certain Regard Grand Prix winner, and Sebastian Meise’s “Great Freedom,” one of the section’s standouts.

*Boarding back-to-back Palme d’Or winners “Parasite” and now “Titane,” plus Jury Prize laureate “Memoria” before the Festival, Neon pounced on “The Worst Person in the World,” a Cannes Festival best actress winner for Renate Reinsve, and on Directors’ Fortnight top winner “A Chiara,” by Jonas Carpignano. Continuing a bullish market, it has just acquired Chinese director Xhang Ximou’s “One Second.”

*Sony Pictures Classics scooped rights to North America, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia and Middle East on Finnish competition entry “Compartment No. 6,” from Juho Kuosmanen (“The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki”), sold by Totem Films.

*Magnolia Pictures scored U.S. rights to relationship comedy “Anais in Love,” French writer-director Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet’s feature debut, playing Critics’ Week. Be For Films made the sale.

*Grasshopper and Gratitude took U.S. rights to “Rehana,” a Cannes Un Certain Regard drama about a medical college professor battling a Bangladeshi patriarch, sold by Films Boutique.

*Hong Kong protest feature “Wood and Water” was picked up by KimStim for North America release.

*Sold by Vision Distribution, gay relationship drama “Mascarpone” went to specialty U.S. distributors Uncork’d Entertainment and Dark Star Pictures. Uncork’d also took Vision’s Italian chiller “They Talk.” Dark Star announced it had bought North America on SXSW poor farmer drama “Freeland.”

*Cohen Media Group scooped U.S. rights to Francois Ozon’s Cannes Competition film “Everything Went Fine.”

*Mister Smith Entertainment’s “The Hating Game,” starring “Pretty Little Liars’” Lucy Hale, as well as Austin Stowell, was picked up by Vertical Entertainment for North America.

*Bleecker Street and ShivHans have secured “Golda,” directed by Oscar-winning director Guy Nattiv (“Skin”), starring Helen Mirren as Israeli P.M. Gold Meir.

*Samuel Goldwyn Films acquired U.S. rights to Indian Tribeca title “Last Film Show” from Orange Studio. Pan Nalin (“Samsara”) directs.

*Oscilloscope swooped on Cannes Directors’ Fortnight title “Clara Sola,” sold by Luxbox, and Tibet-set doc feature “The Velvet Queen.”

*Music comedy “Electric Jesus” landed at 1091 Pictures, which scored North American rights. Motion Picture Exchange (MPX) secured the deal. 1091 Pics. also bought horror movie “Lair” from Storyboard Media,

*Pantaya has taken “Ghosting Gloria,” a droll comedy, and Spanish sci-fi dystopian comedy “Some Time Later,” both from FilmSharks Intl.

*Breaking Glass acquired U.S. rights to LGBTQ+ drama “See You Then” from Vanishing Angle.

*Vertical Ent. acquired worldwide distribution rights including the U.S. to “Small Engine Repair,” starring John Pollono (“Stronger”)

*Saban Films acquired U.S. rights for Philip Barantini’s U.K. drama “Boiling Point,” from Charades ahead of its Karlovy Vary Competition world premiere.

*The Open Reel announced U.S. sales to Dramarama on Spanish feature “Mía and Moi” and Marius Gabriel Stancu’s “It’s Just in My Head,” and a North America deal on Alberto Fuguet’s documentary “Everything at Once” to TLA.

*Film Movement acquired Marcela Lordy’s “The Book of Delights,” a Brazilian tale of female independence.

*Licensed by Dogwoof, Sundance title “Captains of Zaatari” sold to Utopia for the U.S.

*Ellis Frazier’s action-comedy “Hustle Down,” licensed by Ultramedia, went to Gravitas Ventures for North America.

*Cinema Guild bought Hong Sang-soo’s Cannes Competition title “In Front of Your Face” for the U.S.

*Netflix picked up global rights to doc-feature “Tinder Swindler,” from Raw TV, alongside AGC Studios.

*A24 took all North American rights to Valdimar Jóhannsson’s “Lamb,” sold by New Europe Film Sales.

*1844 Entertainment acquired U.S. distribution rights to Jorge Cuchí’s 2020 Venice Critics’ Week player, “50 (or Two Whales Meet on the Beach).”

The Worst Person in the World - Credit: Neon
The Worst Person in the World - Credit: Neon

Neon

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