Cannes Puts Credit Crunch Behind It
With his fifth film in a directing career that began thirty eight years ago, Terrence Malick has finally picked up one of the most prestigious awards in the world of cinema – the Palme d’Or at Cannes.
An English-language film hasn’t taken the festival’s top prize since Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley in 2006 and no-one would doubt the quality of the interim winners – Uncle Boonmee, The White Ribbon, The Class and 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days – but there seems to be little doubt that this honouree, with a cast led by Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, will get bums on seats like few others before it.
The director – whose previous films include Badlands, Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line – is famously shy of the press and didn’t turn up to collect his trophy; that was done by his producers.
The two-time Palme d’Or winners, Belgium’s Dardenne brothers, were the joint-runners-up, along with Turkey’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who was in competition for the top prize for the fourth time.
Another film likely to reach the multiplexes, Drive – in which Ryan Gosling plays a getaway driver – picked up the directing award for Nicolas Winding Refn.
His fellow Dane Lars von Trier provided the inevitable controversy for Cannes, pushing his own reputation to new limits. Although he was expelled from the festival for joking, at the press conference for Melancholia, that he was a Nazi and sympathised with Hitler, his film was not overlooked by the jury, headed by Robert de Niro and including Jude Law and the French director Olivier Assayas. Its star, Kirsten Dunst, picked up the Best Actress prize.
Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, the latest in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and Jodie Foster’s upcoming The Beaver were among a handful of films promoted by the festival, out of competition; the competition itself featured just twenty two films.
The bulk of the action in Cannes surrounds not the festival but the thousands of films jostling for position in the bustling film market, in the exhibition centre, marquees and hotels scattered along the famed Croisette, around the grandiose Theatre Lumiere.
Angelina Jolie was on hand to promote Kung Fu Panda 2, while the banners, posters and 3D displays mounted at the Carlton and Majestic hotels herald what are likely to be the biggest films of the coming year; Cars 2, the next Transformers movie, The Smurfs and two Stephen Spielberg films – the adaptation of Tintin that he’s directing and JJ Abram’s sci-fi Super 8 that he’s producing.
But the market isn’t just about the blockbusters that are certain to find an audience anyway – it also provides a platform for lower profile film-makers to sell their movies, whether completed or at any earlier stage, sometimes even before there’s even a script in place.
Miami-based writer-director Brent Bambic was in Cannes this year with his third feature, after selling Runaways and Exploring Love at previous markets. This year, he hired out a screening room to try to interest distributors and sales agents in Sanctioned to Die.
He used social networks, an advert in the Hollywood Reporter and a heated campaigning, marching booth-to-booth in the market to drum up an audience for his film. It’s a small community in Cannes, Bambic observes; you keep bumping into the same people, which helps you build up relationships.
British producer Campbell Beaton, from Fortune Films, is hoping to follow the much-travelled path of producers such as Nick Hirschkorn and directors, including Sir Ridley Scott, from commercials to feature films.
He was in Cannes, trying to raise money for his debut feature – a two million pound action comedy.
Beaton describes the Cannes market as a Mecca for the film industry; everyone goes.
He says it’s useful to check out the posters of other films being sold to make sure that no-one else has already made the film you’re hoping to produce.
Beaton says Cannes is the perfect place to meet foreign companies if you’re trying to put together an international co-production.
Someone who could be useful to both Bambic and Beaton is Gary Phillips. He runs the British company Moviehouse entertainment, which acquires unfinished projects and sells complete ones.
He says that after two tough years since the credit crisis, there was a much more positive attitude on the Croisette this year. With hundreds of companies plying their wares at the market, Phillips says it’s essential to go to Cannes each year, to stake your territory. If your company is not visible, he says, you can be forgotten very quickly.
For sales agents like Phillips, it’s all about getting distributors to connect with his films, both at his market booth and at his screenings. He screened two films this year – about fifty buyers turned up to one and about two dozen to the other – but he acknowledged that what’s more important is how many people are left at the end. He says this churn is not for the squeamish, so he doesn’t recommend that the film-makers attend their own screenings; it can be disheartening to see people turn up late, leave early, take calls and work on their Blackberries during the films.
He’s not wrong; it is not unknown for buyers who’ve had a busy day to find a nice comfy seat in a warm, dark screening room to have a little nap.
Much of the business in Cannes takes place in the market booths, but parties, receptions and meetings in the many national pavilions form the heart of the networking opportunities.
Cannes sees itself as the king of festivals, insisting, as it does, that it has the premier screenings of all the films it shows. This means that as well as for film-makers, buyers and sellers, the Croisette also becomes a Mecca for the programmers of other festivals. Sandra Hebron, from the London Film Festival, is often seen pounding the Croisette to pick up gems for the BFI’s autumn extravaganza, and at the other end of the spectrum, Tracey Adlai, from the Valley Film Festival, was in Cannes, looking to fill her programme.
She says that at a time when people are increasingly using the social networking websites to promote themselves and their films, it’s worth making the journey from Los Angeles to take the online relationships and meet them offline, face to face. In LA and at Sundance, she gets to meet film-makers from across the US, but Cannes provides her with an opportunity to meet people from all over the world. This introduces her to more films and introduces foreign film-makers to her festival.
One of the odd things about the festival part of Cannes is how notoriously difficult it is for anyone – even industry insiders – to get to see any of the selected films. But a nightly screening of a classic film on the beach and the screening of short films from the back of a yellow van on the Croisette, courtesy of Londoner Andy Greenhouse, enable those who feel they’ve missed out to get at least a taste of cinema.
Just one British film – Lynne Ramsey’s highly acclaimed We Need To Talk About Kevin – featured in the official competition in Cannes this year. Sadly it didn’t win anything, but it’s been a good year so far for British cinema, thanks to the huge success of The King’s Speech at the Golden Globes and the Oscars. But a big question mark is hanging over the future of our film industry, as all those involved wait to see how the new funding structure beds in.
There was much publicity about the government’s announcement, soon after it came to power, that the UK Film Council was one of the quangos being abolished as part of its drive to save public money. At the time, directors and producers were lining up to condemn the government – not least for making the announcement without explaining what alternative arrangements would be made. It took the Films Minister Ed Vaizey another five months to announce that he was transferring most of the UK Film Council’s responsibilities to the BFI and increasing the amount of lottery money available to British film by 40%. But by the time he confirmed this, the damage was done and the message went largely unheard.
“I’m not going to be applying for any PR awards for the way we announced the changes,” he laughed, in Cannes. “I didn’t do it very well, and I allowed what I think has ultimately become a very good news story for British film to be painted for a few months as potentially disastrous and that was very unfortunate. So Cannes feels almost like a launch-pad for the new era for British film.”
He also paid tribute to all those at the Film Council who ensured that the transfer of responsibilities and staff to the BFI went as smoothly as possible and welcomed the amount of inward investment coming from Hollywood productions shooting in the UK.
But even being optimistic about the new financing structures he has put in place, Ed Vaizey acknowledged that increasing the money available to British films couldn’t guarantee that the output will be more successful.
“I can’t predict that there’ll be another hit next year,” he admitted, “But I think the quality is fantastic and it will continue to grow as there is a feeling of confidence in the industry, which is really reassuring.”