Predictions of a Cannes with no sales have not lived down to the pessimists' gloomiest predictions. But buyers and sellers alike describe a market that has been at best patchy.
Despite Cannes Market's official figures claiming to demonstrate more screenings, more companies in attendance and more executives, there can scarcely be a seller who could claim to have had a record breaking market.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that delegations, particularly from the US, are smaller than in previous years. Marketing spend is also said to be down, especially compared to last year's dot-com inflated boom.
The market appeared to labour under three yokes: the threatened screenwriters and actors strikes, reticence on the part of many European and US distributors to buy unfinished pictures, and a collection of corporate calamities. Asia, however, gave the market a better flavour. Asian films, particularly Japanese and Thai, scored well with buyers, while Japan and Korea provided slight relief for sales agents.
The impact of the threatened actors strike was to reduce to a trickle the number of US project announcements. Indeed there were signs of increasing investment in foreign projects (see Miramax/Lumiere EBA, page2).
US buying, on the other hand, was still active, after a slow start. And, perhaps again because of the strike threats, many foreign-language films were being acquired for the US. This was made more possible by the success of the most referenced film of the last year, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.
Angus Finney, joint managing director at Renaissance, said: "Buyers and sellers should learn to be patient and not get depressed. There will be a lot more projects by the London and Mifed markets."
"Germany is an extremely tough market now for all sales agents and prices in general are depressed," said acting Sales Co chief Jane Wright. "However, when you have a hit film like No Man's Land the buyers are still there."
Annakarin Strom, head of sales at Trust Film Sales: "Even though we did not have any films in competition, it hasn't been that bad. Though Germany is completely dead, we can feel an increase in interest from Korea and other Asian territories. Prices are about the same, and we have had much pre-buy interest especially in Lars von Trier's Dogville and Thomas Vinterberg's It's All About Love."
Thorsten Schaumann, head of sales at Bavaria Film International said: "We are very satisfied with the results this year ' Japan was very strong, there was renewed interest from Eastern Europe, especially from Russia." Another German seller, MDC said that it had this time scored 40% of its business in sales to the Far East.
Shinobu Suzuki, acquisitions manager at Japan's Shochiku said: "The competitive situation in Japan has not greatly changed. A lot of Cannes Competition films were already bought before the market. And because of the strike there were fewer blockbusters on the market. Japanese buyers have already been cautious for a while: "We decide at script stage and track films as elements get added."
Mark Yoon, vice president of international at Korea's CJ Entertainment, representing one of the hottest films in the market, Moosa - The Warrior, said: "It is not completely true to say that buyers are unwilling to pre-buy, we have had lots of offers. But we are not prepared to miss out on 25% by selling off a 25-minute promo, when we will soon a finished 2-hr movie." Yoon added: "Germany is definitely a bit slow this year."
German buyers, who drove the markets in 2000, were notable by the absence of their rights bids and all too visible for their stream of lawsuits. This appears to reflect a combination of stagnating theatrical business, slumped stock prices and weakening TV buying.
Across the border in France, TV was also a factor. As much as broadcaster M6 may be reinventing itself as a theatrical distributor and President has emerged with its own theatrical distribution ambitions at home, France has remained distinctly hesitant as a buyer. Sellers have blamed the issue of content quotas and caution brought on by the Canal Plus-Vivendi consolidation.
One seller said "the UK remains a real mess," and identified Spain and Italy as Europe's strongest territories. Indeed Cannes was notable for seeing the return to the ring of wounded giant Cecchi Gori.
But there is always one company bucking the trend. Helen Loveridge of Swiss-German seller Orfeo Films said: "For us most English-language territories were good, which has not been the case recently. Australia was very disappointing. And it was not our best Cannes in the Far East."
Adam Minns, Martin Blaney and Jacob Neiiendam also contributed to this article.