While there's no question that the international sales business was still reeling from the downturn in European TV, Cannes this year proved that theatrical movies were still capable of drawing solid prices from most territories.
"There were fewer viable, real movies, but people who are making real theatrical movies are getting multiple offers," explained Lions Gate Films International co-president Nick Meyer, who had a bumper market with his Paramount co-production The Prince And The Freshman as well as Robin Williams-starrer The Final Cut. "But it's all about value. Buyers are not going to go for movies with no theatrical releases or cast."
Indeed, the big-spending independents in key territories were spoilt for choice in terms of big-budget Hollywood movies. Summit Entertainment alone was representing various territories on Mr And Mrs Smith, The Runaway Jury, Alexander, The Punisher, Around The World In 80 Days and Sahara, while Graham King's IEG was back at market with The Aviator, An Unfinished Life, The Accidental Husband and Laws Of Attraction, not to mention the traditional studio suppliers such as Miramax, New Line and Focus.
Phoenix Pictures teamed with Ann Dubinet and Jere Hausfater's new sales company, Beacon Pictures allied with Summit, equity financier Bob Yari was spreading his considerable wealth to sales companies such as Capitol, Kathy Morgan, Arclight and Splendid. And GreeneStreet Films officially launched its own sales operation under Cedric Jeanson.
"People will pay top dollar for the must-have titles," said Alison Thompson of Pathe International, who had the sizzling hot Pride And Prejudice: The Bollywood Musical on her slate. "When times are tough, you're almost better off getting big movies to drive your TV or video machine," added Meyer.
For big movies, Japan was still first port of call. Summit closed a mighty three picture deal with Toho-Towa for three New Regency titles - Mr And Mrs Bridge, The Runaway Jury and Wrong Turn. Shochiku took IEG's Aviator. Gaga bought Shall We Dance and Duplex from Miramax International, while Asmik Ace bought Spy Kids 3D.
Meanwhile Germany was back in the buying business. "There are signs that buyers are coming back," said Thompson. "I could have sold [Danny Boyle's] Millions to Germany, but I didn't." Revived Kinowelt was also a notable entrant in the buying game. "We are back," said Rainer Koelmel. "I don't know if Germany is back, but we are."
Still down, however, was France - "brutal" said one seller, who added that Metropolitan and SND were the only distributors with money and dictating terms to sellers. Metropolitan's Victor and Samuel Hadida were investing the spoils of its Lord Of The Rings successes in an ambitious production slate, attaching director John McTiernan to a film of the Judge Dee mysteries and in production on The Bridge Of San Luis Rey and Resident Evil Apocalypse.
Other buyers were opting to form alliances - one involving A-Films, Cineart/Cinelibre, Lucky Red, Frenetic and Haut Et Court has begun announcing jointly acquired pictures, another called Entera was acquiring for the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy. Meanwhile English-speaking territories - the UK and Australia - were buying in tandem to compete with Icon. Optimum (UK) and Rialto (Australia), for example, teamed up to buy HBO Films London's American Splendor.
Italy was described by two sellers as strong, with Eagle Pictures buying multiple pictures from Focus and Senator, Bim taking Pride And Prejudice: The Bollywood Musical and Elephant and Lucky Red and Ladyfilms also busy.
Some smaller territories like Greece and Portugal were also showing signs of vigour. Focus Features' Glen Basner pointed, for example, to the fact that Zhang Yimou's Hero grossed over $1m in both Greece and . Pre-buying was de rigeur. Shani Films for example bought Israeli rights to Manderlay from Zentropa, the next Mike Leigh film from StudioCanal and Vanity Fair and Bad Education from Focus.
Asian buyers were less in evidence as a result of SARS, although most Hong Kong buyers sent representatives. "The flow of people coming through our office has not been as good as last year which was probably due to the war and SARS," said Gordon Cheung, head of distribution at Hong Kong's Celestial Pictures. "There have been fewer buyers from Asia and Latin America but luckily for us we were focusing on Europe at this market."
As for the US, there was little buying action largely due to what was considered a disappointing official selection. Dogville stirred interest from Lions Gate, Artisan and Paramount Classics among others (although Fine Line's last look on the picture added an interesting dimension to the negotiations) and Young Adam had offers on the table, but the only deal closed at press time was for Fortissimo Films' Japanese Story with Samuel Goldwyn Films.