Cannes festival, no help to movie market
By Gautaman Bhaskaran
The Cannes International Film Festival, which wound up the other day after a 12-day run at this picturesque town by the Mediterranean Sea, boasts of one of the biggest movie markets anywhere in the world. Hundreds of movies are promoted, pushed, sold and bought. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of celluloid dreams change hands. The market certainly adds to the glitz and glamour that show business is all about.
But this May, the Cannes market has been a disaster. Sellers said that the trade was down by a steep 20 per cent compared with last year's figure. And, things are going to get bad before they get any better. Mr. Jef Nuyta of the Romebased Achab Film told this correspondent that he felt like “hanging himself in his office”. That was the kind of desperation and gloom one saw here.
One reason for this could be that the festival and the market no longer seemed to be on the same wave length. Visitors to the market, located at the basement of the main festival venue, Palace, were oblivious of what was happening above them. The festival and the prizes — Golden Palms — that it offered had become quite useless as far as business was concerned, avered a German buyer. Once, the festival was an effective platform for distributors of the pictures that won prizes. Obviously, there is a great divide between what the festival thinks is art and what the man on the street wants to watch.
There are, of course, other factors for the market's poor record this summer. The current economic crisis in Asia, fewer buyers from Germany, because the television there has eclipsed cinema, the increasing cost of production (with stars demanding and getting the sky, a feature back home in India as well) and the like have made the Cannes market look rather dull.
“The business is going to get much worse for smaller companies,” said Mr. Rick Sands, chief of Miramax Distribution. ‘There are too many pictures and too few buyers. Basically, it has been a slow market this time, and even successful theatrical ventures are not moving the way they used to.”
Asia was virtually non-existent. Nobody had sold anything to Indonesia or had got big money from South Korea where the market price of films had dived. The Japanese were terribly choosy. They paid about 50 per cent less than what they had in other years.
India's rather dismal looking stall put up by the National Film Development Corporation did not sell even a rupee worth of any product. Mr. S. Narayan of the NFDC, who is a regular at the Cannes market, said they had negotiated business worth Rs. 40 lakhs. But nothing had been signed and sealed. That is the catch. For years, this correspondent, despite repeated requests, has never been provided with a list of the movies sold or bought by NFDC. And, if one were to have done business with Iran, as was implied, it did seem strange and a terrible waste of money that the NFDC should come all the way to Europe for that. After all, Tehran is our neighbour or just about.
Yet another interesting aspect of the market has been the fact that while the number shot up in comparison to last year’s, the number of buyers actually went down. So, there were many more curious onlookers than there were with any serious intention of buying a picture or two.
And few of the deals that actually went through this time had the kind of impact of contracts signed in the past. Last year, not a day seemed to pass without a major acquisition by Miramax. This year, it barely purchased any. Indeed, the only eyebrow-raiser came from Fox Searchlight, which spent a reported $5 millions for “Waking Ned”, a British comedy about winning a lottery.
Despite this “catastrophe”, there is a ray of hope. More and more people are going back to the cinemas in Europe and the U.S. The demand for films continues, even in Asia, including India. And with cinema declared an industry in India, there will be brighter days for a medium that till now borrowed money from undesirable sources. But will India make better cinema in the days to come? Will it then be able to promote it at markets like Cannes? It depends entirely on our directors, who may tell good stories, but cut costs at the production stage. The result? The craft suffers. Also, it is time they understood the idiom of international cinema. Tighten your belts, please. Otherwise, Cannes is not going to have patience for the likes of you,