CANNES, May 15 — All the elements are in place for a successful Cannes film market after several subdued pandemic years, with a record line-up tempting buyers who are counting on a vibrant international market to eclipse weakness in the United States.

While the Cannes Film Festival conjures visions of glamorous celebrities on the red carpet and yacht parties, the main attraction is the film market, where industry players, big and small, gather to do business.

That market, which opened yesterday and runs until May 22, is set to welcome a record number of participants, over 15,000 from more than 140 countries.

In addition to films with Oscar potential, such as director Ali Abbasi’s The Apprentice, about a young Donald Trump, there is a large number of not-yet-made films up for grabs due to the Hollywood strikes.

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“The line-up is very strong,” Kent Sanderson, president of independent film distributor Bleecker Street, told Reuters.

And it includes more English-language films and established directors this year, such as Paul Schrader and Francis Ford Coppola, Sanderson said.

“The list is better and of a higher level than I think I’ve ever seen,” especially for films yet to be made, that have been held back due to the strikes in Hollywood, Scott Roxborough, European bureau chief for The Hollywood Reporter, told Reuters.

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“That, combined with the fact that the independent market in the United States, the distribution market, is still quite tough” will put the spotlight on Cannes, he said.

Cautious optimism

Still, the mood is cautious following the earlier pandemic years, said Sanderson, whose Bleecker Street acquired the Cate Blanchett-led Group of Seven comedy “Rumours” showing at Cannes.

A big question is whether the US will match its foreign counterparts in terms of sales, said Sanderson.

While there has been some recovery in the years since the Covid-19 outbreak, with Europe doing better than the US “nobody really sees a trajectory that would take us back to the level of ticket sales and the revenue that we saw in 2018, 2019,” Roxborough said.

Ticket sales in the United States and Canada peaked at US$11.9 billion in 2018. Last year, they came in at US$8.9 billion.

Better sales prospects overseas have prompted filmmakers to turn to the international market before the United States, Roxborough said.

Just this month, MadRiver Pictures, led by CEO Marc Butan, closed a deal with key international distributors that sees it pre-selling rights to those partners, and allows MadRiver to bankroll and approve films before selling in the US reported The Hollywood Reporter.

The venture will focus on action, thriller and adventure features and will aim to produce two to three films a year.

“For a lot of the independent distributors, there’s a kind of insatiable demand for those types of movies because the supply isn’t there,” Butan told Reuters. “They’re having trouble filling a release slate with titles that hit a certain level.”

Space for big titles only

According to Butan, the changes in viewing habits spurred by streaming companies have been accompanied by higher-end commercial film studios shifting toward the larger-budget tent pole movies - films that are nearly guaranteed hits - leaving the mid-budget space to the independent studios.

And for films outside the mainstream with “great scripts, great cast, great directors that are made at the right price - I think there’s a real market for those,” added Butan.

However, “the stuff between those two zones, when you get kind of into the US$15-40 million space or something like that, it’s really, really hard,” Butan said.

Clement Magar, of the China-focused Fortissimo Films, said he, too, has seen the market for small titles dry up.

Instead, he said, companies go for big theatrical releases to earn money, or seek deals with larger platforms like Netflix - which tends to just buy big, mainstream Chinese titles.

“What I’ve heard and what I’ve felt is that there’s no more space for small titles basically to make it,” said Magar, whose company is launching the animated Chinese feature, The Umbrella Fairy, at the Cannes’ market this year.

“It used to be a small market, now it’s zero market for small titles, and there’s only space for big titles.” — Reuters