If Cannes is the international film industry distilled into two weeks along the Croisette, then there were some clear messages about what we should all expect over the next couple of years.
First and foremost was the message that the film business may be recession resistant, but it isn’t recession-proof. So far box-office revenues have remained relatively strong in the face of the worst global economic downturn in living memory, but Cannes showed that the industry itself is already making its own efficiencies. There were fewer glitzy parties and while the entertainment was still generous, the excesses of previous Cannes were less in evidence.
“Cannes shows that the film industry is unlike any other creative industry in the way that it does business, backs talent and invests in individual passions”
The market was certainly attended by fewer buyers — with some estimating a drop of as much as 30%. But sellers reported that this had often translated into higher-quality meetings with less time-wasting and more credible conversations. And as we report on our news pages and analysis in this issue, plenty of significant deals did get done. The focus of the 62nd Cannes festival was on “real” films that would actually get made and find an audience, rather than flights of fancy or vanity.
It seems certain that in a more difficult market there will be a process of consolidation and rationalisation. Evidence of this came when French commercial broadcaster TF1 and UGC International announced plans at the festival to collaborate on distribution and sales. We can expect more of this kind of deal over the next few months as the business looks for new ways to reduce cost and risk.
Equally, the foundations on which film has been financed in the past are shifting — with TV and DVD revenues being hit by a combination of the advertising downturn and the impact of DVD and online piracy. New business models are required by the industry, and though there is much discussion around them there still remains a tendency by some leading players to drag their heels and resist exploring the potential of on-demand services.
Yet despite the turbulent times, the film industry was in upbeat mood at Cannes, and there were plenty of positives to take away, including the calibre of many of the films shown - and the energy and activity that the event engenders.
Cannes vividly demonstrates that the film industry is unlike any other creative industry in the way that it does business, backs talent and invests in individual passions. The festival is an irresistible reminder of what makes the industry itself so special. Whether it’s the frenzy around the red carpets, or the critical reaction to Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, the festival pulses with an energy and excitement that can’t be found in any other business.
There is a passionate (sometimes alarming) gleam in the eye of many people you talk to about their project, or a film they are working on or to which they have acquired the rights. It’s a combination of hard-sell, fervent belief and a hint of panic that their idea or deal may never take off. But passion is the crucial ingredient of Cannes and the film industry itself.
Passion is the quality that brings the directors to offer up their latest work, the deal-makers to gather in bars and restaurants and woo investors, and the fans to gather outside the Palais with pieces of paper pleading for tickets to the latest Tarantino, Almodovar or Haneke film.
So, yes, the message from Cannes is that times are tough and may get much tougher yet, but when there’s the level of enthusiasm and commitment shown at Cannes, the film industry has plenty to be positive about.