International buyers of buzzy arthouse films reveal what they are looking for at this year’s festival, how those films are working in their territory right now and the best strategy for a good Cannes meeting.
Michael Barker (US) - Co-president, Sony Pictures Classics
What is the US market like for arthouse films? The foreign-language films are harder than ever before. If it’s one of those two or three that crosses over, you’re then in great shape.
Are you paying more or less than you were five years ago? We’re paying about the same… Now if you go back another 10 years you probably paid more.
What’s working in the market? It’s those films where we come up with marketing ideas that help make that film distinctive in the marketplace.
How many do you hope to buy? The worst thing you can do is say you have to buy a movie in Cannes… That’s when you make mistakes.
What makes a good meeting at Cannes? When you meet the filmmaker [and] you feel the pulse of what’s on their mind, the ideas…
How can sales agents help to ensure a meeting goes well? My favourite sales agents are the ones that are fair, because some of them are not. I remember in the 1990s being sold a film, going off to lunch to celebrate, and at the end of the lunch having a press person call me to say it had just been sold to someone else. It never happened to me again.
Danielle DiGiacomo (US) - Vice president of acquisitions, The Orchard
Are you paying more or less for films than five years ago? Now that we’ve had success in that arena, both box office-wise and awards-wise [recent buys include 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute) and Neruda], we find it’s less about outbidding someone on the minimum guarantees [MGs] and more about being a trustworthy, transparent and collaborative partner with a well-thought-out release strategy.
What is working? I’m still a believer that fresh visions and stories we haven’t seen before, as well as under-represented people and narratives, are working.
How many do you hope to buy? One or two finished films. If a pre-buy with potential pops up that we really love, then that’s a possibility.
Chris Yu (South Korea) - President and chief executive, Green Narae Media
What is the South Korean market like for arthouse films? Since 2017 we’re seeing an unexpected slump in the arthouse market. Films that were buzzy at Cannes haven’t been greatly successful at the local box office.
What kinds of films are you looking for? We have a lot of titles in Cannes that we have pre-bought, so I’ll just be looking for one or two very good films. Very slow-paced arthouse films are less marketable these days. I’m looking for films with a definite concept. You have to stand out.
What makes a good meeting at Cannes? The sellers I like all have one thing in common — they accurately grasp a buyer’s needs by territory. Rather than pitching every title they have at length, they figure out what a particular buyer will want. It saves us all time and effort.
Paul Park (South Korea) - Content business part director, The Coup Corporation
Are you paying more or less for a buzzy Cannes festival film than you were five years ago? Competition films tend to have deals ahead of time these days. We already bought Girls Of The Sun in Berlin. In the past five years, a market for arthouse films has formed and so naturally, it’s gotten more competitive, which has driven up prices to beyond the scope of what is reasonable — even though the Korean market has slowed a bit.
What kinds of films are you looking for? We’re looking for films that have a hook, an interesting concept. We usually buy five or six films.
What makes a good meeting at Cannes? The biggest thing is honesty. Bluffing to get higher prices, you get found out in the end and then we might end up distancing ourselves from that seller and their company. Some sellers give you an honest opinion about prices and how well a film might do in Korea. This results in better relationships and deals.
Torsten Frehse (Germany) - Chief executive, Neue Visionen Filmverleih
What is the German market like for arthouse films? It’s becoming more and more difficult to reach 100,000 admissions. Competition is tougher among distributors to acquire that particular film which will work, which is often accompanied by bidding wars and too-high minimum guarantees.
What kinds of films are you looking for? We already have some films for 2018-19 that we bought based on the strength of the screenplay such as Naomi Kawase’s Vision, Julie Bertuccelli’s Le Dernier Vide-Grenier De Claire Darling and Ludovic Bernard’s In Your Hands. So we aren’t under any real pressure to find a certain number of films. French comedies continue to be extremely popular in Germany and the same goes for arthouse films by renowned directors who have had a good run on the ‘A’ festivals.
Bianca Obermaier (Germany) - Acquisitions, Weltkino
What kinds of films are you looking for at Cannes? We had a very successful Berlin and therefore Cannes is more relaxed. We will focus on films for a 2019 release.
How can sales agents ensure a meeting goes well in Cannes? Some snacks and a glass of rosé never hurt. On a serious note, just like I aim to be prepared by knowing the line-ups and having covered scripts, I expect a sales agent to have done his or her part and be familiar with our slate and the German market.
Jakub Duszynski (Poland) - Head of acquisitions, Gutek Film
What is the Polish market like for arthouse films? Cannes is as strong and as important as ever. This is the event we are all waiting for. But I am paying more than five years ago. I face bigger competition every year for those few top films everyone wants to handle locally.
Which films are working in Poland right now? Bold, edgy, significant, uplifting films. I am looking for films that will turn me on. I would love to come back with three films for 2019.
How can sales agents ensure a meeting goes well? Know the profile of the company you deal with, do not pitch all your films, push one film that you feel fits the profile of the company.
Margherita Chiti (Italy) - Head of acquisitions and sales, Teodora
What is the Italian market like for Cannes films? Cannes is the only film festival that can make a real difference at the box office. You need a movie that has won a prize. The Square for sure wouldn’t have scored the box office it did if it wasn’t for the Palme d’Or win. But it does depend on the film. 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute) didn’t perform as well as another grand jury prize winner, such as Son Of Saul.
How many films do you hope to buy? One or two. Or maybe just one. But a very good one.
How can sales agents help ensure a meeting goes well? By demonstrating they know you, even if it’s the first time you’ve met.
Stefano Massenzi (Italy) - Head of acquisitions and business affairs, Lucky Red
What is the Italian market like for arthouse films? It depends. The Square grossed ¤1m [$1.2m] while the average Cannes title has a more difficult life. The audience is mature, which is good for traditional movies but not for arthouse ones. Also, dubbing is a problem, particularly for non-Western languages. Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation only grossed ¤100,000 [$121,000] because of the dubbing.
Are you paying more or less for films than five years ago? Less. A more fragmented market, the explosion of TV channels, the drop in home -video revenue and the lack of a real on-demand offer have all contributed.
What kinds of films are you looking for at Cannes? Surprising ones and popular ones. We are looking for the broadest possible audience.
Clare Binns (UK) - Joint MD, Picturehouse Cinemas
What are you looking for this year? I was hoping to pick up films in Berlin but that was a disappointing market for us. The year before we picked up Sally Potter’s The Party but there wasn’t anything like that this year. There was one film we would have picked up in a shot, Sunday’s Illness, but Netflix had it. If something is great and we think it’s going to work, we’re going to buy it. The amount we buy is not prescriptive.
Are you paying more or less for buzzy Cannes films than five years ago? You have to be very careful at Cannes that you don’t get carried away, people do sometimes end up overpaying for films.
What is the biggest challenge you face going into Cannes? The fact other markets have been not as good as they could have been. There will be a lot of people out there looking for some big titles.
What makes a good meeting in Cannes? When everybody wants to do a deal. We’ve all been around the block an awful long time, you want to deal with people that are going to work well with you. For example, I’ve always found Charlotte Mickie, who is now back at [French sales agent] Celluloid Dreams, a great person to work with. She has immaculate taste and she wants to get films over the line. There are lots of good people out there who want to do business with you.
Cate Kane (UK) - Head of acquisitions, Curzon Artificial Eye
What is the market for Cannes titles in the UK? We’ve been lucky to have the Palme d’Or for the past three years. It’s something you can usually sell to a cinephile audience.
What kinds of films are you looking for? We’re director-led, so we’re always hoping Cannes selects the best directors. Haneke, von Trier — those names are symbols of quality to audiences. We’ve been tracking Ruben Ostlund since Involuntary.
How many are you looking to buy this year? We take the stuff we love.
Are you paying more or less for buzzy Cannes films than five years ago? It depends if we pre-buy or not. Sometimes we’ve pre-bought and we’ve probably paid more than we would do once we’d seen the film, you take that risk. Sometimes it works the other way — we pre-bought The Square and paid a good minimum guarantee for it but probably would have had to pay more money if we’d have waited until Cannes.
What makes a good meeting in Cannes? Having an honest sales agent who knows what you want is really important. I hate it when people pitch films that I’m clearly never going to go for.
Efe Cakarel (UK) - Founder and CEO, steaming platform MUBI
What is the UK market like for Cannes films? It is a very challenging environment. Exhibitors are leaning towards the bigger titles that are safer bets for them. The market for first-time filmmakers is dead, it is so expensive to market and release a film from a first-time director and to get the support of exhibitors. That imbalance [provides an] opportunity for platforms, particularly those who are focused on introducing fresh voices to the market. That’s us. The reason we started to buy all rights on films and do theatrical releases is that this is the only way to show a film exclusively on your platform early enough. Showing films early is what drives subscribers, showing them three years from today doesn’t move the needle. We are committed to theatrical releases, we tell our audience to go see the film on the big screen. The more people who see it and talk about it, the more press you get, that elevates the film and exposes it to a wider audience.
What are you looking for in Cannes? We are focused on identifying the interesting new stuff in Cannes that we know Netflix, Amazon are not really interested in. Cannes remains the most important festival in world by a distance. Some of the most interesting and exciting projects are introduced there. There are going to be 17 of us in Cannes, we see every film in every section – we are extremely committed to it. We try to take US and UK rights together, but we can be flexible.
How many films do you hope to buy? We want to buy two or three. We are going with a much bigger budget this year to make sure we get good films, to make sure we can be really competitive. If there’s a film that surprises everyone and the price goes up, MUBI is in the mix this year.
What makes a good Cannes meeting? If you’re a sales agent or producer who already knows what MUBI stands for, that becomes a smoother, more interesting conversation. We don’t look at just numbers, we approach films very passionately and we really care about them.
Alexandre Mallet-Guy (France) - Chief executive, Memento Films Distribution
What is the French market for Cannes films? Films that made 100,000 admissions five years ago don’t necessarily perform so well now. That said, Cannes can really help a title. For example, 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute) would never have performed so well without Cannes. The festival gave the film greater resonance in the media that helped it connect with a wider audience. Without Cannes, the film would have achieved 400,000 admissions instead of the 850,000 admissions that it did.
What kinds of films are working right now? We’re working more and more with films early on in their development. France remains a competitive arthouse acquisition market. The Competition titles are rarely available for France by the time the festival rolls around, or even before. For Cannes this year, we won’t have much time for acquisitions and when it comes to international films we generally work with directors we already know, and for French films, we buy off the script and rarely at Cannes.
What is the biggest challenge you face going into Cannes? For us, it’s not really on the acquisitions front, but rather looking after the titles we already have and making sure that the logistics are in place at the festival so that they are shown under the best possible conditions, and connect with media at the festival.
Otilio Garcia Gobeo (Spain) - Chief executive, Golem Distribution
What is the Spanish market like for Cannes films? The market is getting tougher and tougher due to [Spain’s ongoing financial] crisis, Europe’s highest VAT rates, piracy, and so on. Even the Palme d’Or doesn’t guarantee box-office success. The risk is higher and MGs cannot simply be as high as they used to be — we cannot afford it.
What kinds of films are you looking for? We already have Shoplifters by Hirokazu Kore-eda and Ash Is Purest White by Jia Zhangke. We are in talks for two others. We really hope they are well received as awards always help a little. We will also be looking for some more films for 2019. Women are Golem’s target audience. Spanish filmgoers are more and more drawn to comedy, to audience-friendly films. Robert Guédiguian’s The House By The Sea, [and then] The Death Of Stalin and The Party have all done well so we’ll do our best to avoid very ‘hard’ stories. That said, we never forget to look for emerging talents. We picked up Xavier Legrand’s Custody at Cannes last year.
How can sales agents ensure a meeting goes well? It is so easy to spot a good seller: they know your company profile and line-up and do not try to sell anything and everything to you.
Enrique Gonzalez Kühn (Spain) - Managing director, Caramel Films
What is the Spanish market like for Cannes films? The Spanish audience has become bourgeois and middle-aged. Filmgoers don’t take chances so we have to be careful about the chances we take as distributors.
What kinds of films are you looking for? An interesting auteur film with commercial appeal. That’s what we are all after. This year I have already got Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War. It’s difficult to predict the number of films I will buy. I was going to get one in Berlin and ended up with five.
Denis Ivanov (Ukraine) - Chief executive, Arthouse Traffic
What is the Ukrainian market like for Cannes films? Five years ago it was extremely complicated to deal with the rights for Ukraine only, as all rights were sold to the former USSR as a package. Now many big sales companies are ready to have direct deals with Ukraine.
How many films are you looking for? We are hoping to buy up to 10 titles. We are mostly focused on arthouse films by well-known directors or with the participation of actors considered to be big stars by Ukrainian audiences.
Jakob Abrahamsson (Nordic Region) - Chief executive, NonStop Entertainment
What is the Nordic market like for Cannes films? Last year had some really quite good films, even though a fair number of them were pre-sold for Scandinavia and in the end several of them underperformed at the local box office. My hunch is we pay about the same or slightly less for Cannes titles than previously. The biggest challenge would be to find titles that translate and work in the local market, and lately there has been a trend for us that Toronto and Sundance are becoming more important. But hey, Cannes is still Cannes and there is nothing like it.
What kinds of films are you looking for? We’re looking for strong crossover titles, arthouse or ones that are more audience-friendly, but naturally grabbing a Palme d’Or winner always means something. We also acquire some classics, some docs and do some pre-buys. All in, we should bring about four to six titles.
INTERVIEWS by Martin Blaney, Elisabet Cabeza, Melanie Goodfellow, Tom Grater, Jeremy Kay, Wendy Mitchell and Gabriele Niola