The Japanese and Indian presence at Cannes has increased this year as both territories look beyond their huge domestic markets.

The number of Asian companies attending Cannes has grown steadily in the last few years, and while there isn’t a huge increase this year, the overall number of Asian attendees is holding steady at around 14% of the total market compared to 15% in 2008.

“The number of individuals from mainland China is up by around 50%”

Cannes marche president Jerome Paillard said it was too early to give exact figures, but the number of Hong Kong and Korean sales companies is roughly the same at around seven or eight each. Buoyed by a strong domestic industry, the Japanese are increasing their ranks to around 25 sales companies from 22 last year.

The number of individuals from mainland China is up by around 50%, although there isn’t a big increase in sellers, as the Chinese rely on Hong Kong and European companies to sell their product. Singapore has sent a delegation of eight local production companies – two more than last year.  

Meanwhile, the Indian delegation numbers around 40 companies, including sellers, producers and financiers. The Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), which has replaced the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) as the organiser of the delegation, claims this is double the number of companies that attended in 2008.

The figures reflect some interesting trends in the international aspirations of Asian sellers. While Hong Kong, Korean and Singaporean companies have always felt it necessary to look beyond their limited borders, the Japanese and Indians have traditionally been more focused on their huge domestic markets.

Japanese companies such as Shochiku and Toho have been attending Cannes for decades, but sales was always regarded as a stepping stone to better things by the young executives at the Japanese studios. That attitude seems to be slowly changing as Japanese films have had a good year overseas and the government is encouraging the local industry to become more active as a co-producer.

India only started to take Cannes seriously about six years ago and now sends a large delegation – even though Bollywood has still not crossed over from its diaspora-driven overseas territories. “We want to open up new markets and Cannes is the only place where you can see all the distributors – the usual suspects and new faces – under one roof,” says UTV Motion Pictures CEO Siddarth Roy Kapur. 

However, Asian sellers are being realistic about how much business will be done given the decreased buying appetite of the recession-stricken West. Buyers are expected to offer lower prices and attend the market for a shorter period, making it harder to close a sale. “Last year, people may have decided to wait for another market if they couldn’t sell at the price they wanted, but this year they may be more responsive to doing a deal,” says Jeffrey Chan of Hong Kong and Beijing-based Distribution Workshop.

Asian sellers will also be more open to non-theatrical deals, or the combined theatrical/VoD releases offered by companies such as IFC Films and Magnolia, although this largely depends on the product. “You really can’t go straight-to-video on a Jackie Chan title,” says Distribution Workshop’s Chan.

Whenever they’re quizzed about sales projections, sellers anywhere in the world will tell you that it all comes down to the strength of their line-up. In product terms, Asia has a mixed bag this year. Genre titles seem to be increasingly made for local tastes, although there are films on offer such as Alan Mak and Felix Chong’s surveillance thriller Overheard and manga adaptation MW that could prise open Western wallets.

More promising is the arthouse output from Asia this year – many of the top auteurs have a project ready and Asia has a strong presence in Cannes official selection. Competition titles such as Park Chan-wook’s Thirst and Johnnie To’s Vengeance have sufficient genre elements to make them hot sellers in the territories that haven’t already been sold. A strong showing at a top international festival does wonders for the confidence of a local film industry and encourages a larger turnout at major markets such as Cannes.

Swine flu does not appear to have had an impact on Asian attendance at Cannes. Some Japanese companies had considered cancelling the trip in the weeks preceding the festival, but finally decided to attend as the situation appeared to be under control. They’d already spent money on their attendance, besides which, Cannes is the one market of the year that nobody wants to miss.