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At Cannes, independent film firms optimistic as streamers stumble

CANNES — Independent film companies facing a market upended by the entry of streaming services are showing some optimism heading into this year’s Cannes Film Festival as the Netflix era has begun flattening out and audiences start trickling back into cinemas post-pandemic.

While buyers are being cautious about purchasing volumes amid a shaky global economy, they are showing up at festivals and being active -— a trend that Todd Brown, head of international acquisitions at US-based XYZ Films, said he expects to continue.

Cannes may make headlines for its glitz and glamor, but as the world’s largest event for buying and selling movie rights, its importance to the industry is unparalleled.

Some 12,500 industry professionals involved in buying, selling, or producing movies in some form show up at the market, where almost 4,000 films and projects are put on display and hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of deals are done.

Except for a handful of titles that will do well no matter what, the market is pretty competitive this year, said Laura Wilson, head of acquisitions at Britain-based Altitude Films.

“It doesn’t feel like a buyers’ or sellers’ market,” she said.

Both Mr. Brown and Ms. Wilson said they are betting on audiences returning to the cinema. “Ultimately, we are optimistic about theatrical,” said Ms. Wilson.

AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. this month reported positive quarterly results boosted by The Super Mario Bros. Movie, and the world’s largest cinema chain operator said it expected The Little Mermaid, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse to generate box-office sales for the rest of the year.

However, Brian O’Shea, CEO at The Exchange, based in Los Angeles, did not see as much cause for optimism in the numbers.

“The box office that is beneficial to independent film is depressed” as it is primarily older viewers, who wanted to avoid getting sick during the coronavirus pandemic, and have become used to watching movies from the comfort of home, he said.

“It’s a transitional time on the business side as the traditional business model that independent buyers use sees lessened value,” said Mr. O’Shea.

Global film companies like the Walt Disney Co., Paramount, and Warner Bros. joined the streaming revolution to counter the threat posed by Netflix, Inc. to traditional TV but are now facing a crowded market where the competition to increase subscriber numbers is fierce.

“Everybody’s been really focused on the shock impact of the streamer contraction … but the other thing it does for traditional theatrical distribution is narrow the focus of what the streamers are doing and what kind of film they want to do and how they want to do them, so for everything else there’s … space for counterprogramming,” Mr. Brown said.

The similarity among much of the content offered on streaming platforms leaves theater audiences wanting something different, an unmet appetite that independent companies could fulfil, he said.

Proof of that argument is how well last year’s Triangle of Sadness and Joyland did in Europe, and Everything Everywhere All at Once in the United States and worldwide. “Those are movies that are radically not streamer movies,” said Mr. Brown.

However, in one sign that streamers are focusing more on cinema in a bid to stand out from the crowd, Apple, Inc. will premiere Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon starring Leonardo DiCaprio at Cannes and has teamed up with Paramount to release the film in theaters before streaming it globally in October.

“Something good is happening, and I’m sure other streaming services will follow suit,” Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux said in an interview with Le Film francais magazine in April. — Reuters

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