The real business in Cannes this year is going on in the port, where the yachts of Big Money are parked – French-Tunisian media financier Taraq Ben Ammar, ex-Microsoft mogul Paul Allen (who has Mick Jagger aboard) and the Isle of Man fund. Agents and producers parade in and out, paying homage and aggressively offering friendship to cash-rich newbies like Pennsylvania billionaire Norton Herrick.
The minds of Hollywood are particularly concentrated on where the money lies at a time when money is particularly scarce.
This was reflected in the high-end turnout at the IM Global-Big Reliance cocktail party, where the chairman of the Indian multibillion-dollar media giant, Ammit Khanna, found himself surrounded by new buddies from Comerica and Citibank.
Khanna recently bought about 76 percent of Stuart Ford’s international film company, IM Global, after having backed DreamWorks two years ago.
Why is he so interested in the film business? “We are interested in all businesses from a diversification point of view,” he said. “We think there’s money to be made.”
Others might have disagreed. On the floor of the film market at the Palais des Festivals, there was notably less activity than in years past.
Sony Classics co-president Tom Bernard passed through there on Monday morning – when activity usually is at fever pitch – and found the aisles were empty.
“Maybe it was the volcano, maybe it’s the economy, but a lot of buyers didn’t come,” said Bernard. “The activity I’ve noticed are the high-end wealth people being catered to by agents. Maybe it will result in more movies next year.”
A couple of acquisitions finally jolted the low-energy activity around the festival. Bernard and partner Michael Barker bought “Another Year,” Mike Leigh’s thoughtful character piece about marriage and maturity. IFC bought Xavier Dolan’s “Heartbeats” and first-time director Antoine Blossier’s thriller “Prey.”
A critical debate continues to rage over Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s "Biutiful," between those who thought it was a brilliant work and no-brainer for the Palme d’Or and others who found its intensity heavy-handed and its message overly bleak.
A handful of U.S. distributors passed on the film early, deeming it too dark for domestic audiences. So it remained a favorite for the top prize – and a tough sell for distribution.
At the party for “Blue Valentine,” where Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams (pictured at top of page) glowed after a red-carpet premiere, journalists including Eugene Hernandez of Indiewire, Jeff Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere, Pete Hammond and Steve Zeitchik of the L.A. Times continued the argument that’s been going on online. Good to know that movies still stir heated passions somewhere.
As for "Blue Valentine," trimmed by five or 10 minutes after its Sundance premiere, the drama about a marriage in the throes of collapse was already bought by the Weinstein Company and will be released at the end of December. The critics liked it, as Steve Pond has detailed in his Report From Cannes. (Cannes, Day 8: Tear-Jerkers and Head-Scratchers)
Less controversial by far was “Tamara Drewe,” a dark comedy set in the English countryside by the sure-handed Stephen Frears. It takes place at a writers retreat situated across the dell from a sprawling home inherited by the title character, a brainy sexpot journalist with a nose job. (No, not me, actress Gemma Arterton.)
The movie’s light tone takes a decided turn toward tragicomedy near the end, and reception was largely positive. Sony Classics will release it.
And while we're on sex – let's take a moment to note that Cannes is paying no attention to a Facebook petition, now nearing 1,000 signatures, protesting the lack of a single female director in the competition.
A well-meaning documentary about the need to eliminate nuclear arms in the world had a high-class pedigree and world peace on its mind, but precious little interest from the critical community at the festival.
“Countdown to Zero,” produced by Lawrence Bender ("An Inconvenient Truth”) and directed by Lucy Walker ("Waste Land"), laid out a convincing case for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.
With 20,000 nuclear warheads remaining between Russia and the United States, an uncontrolled black market in selling enriched uranium to terrorists and a proven history of accidents and close calls, the documentary states the facts in all their stark clarity.
Its case is supported by strong interviews with former CIA agent Valerie Plame (who came to the festival, see photo above) and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and a disturbing exchange with a convicted smuggler who tried to sell uranium to evildoers and got caught.
Plame, Jordan’s Queen Noor and former Norwegian Prime Minister Prime Minister Dr. Gro Brundtland all came to a sparsely attended news conference to press their agenda.
Plame, who left her job in 2006, said she used to work to limit the nuclear threat in the CIA.
“My position has evolved to the point where I believe this is the only option for reasonable nations to come to,” she said. “It’s not enough to simply delay or divert, the operations we were doing (in the CIA).”
She added: “It’s been 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Nothing has been done in the community of nations, or very little, to do something about it.”
Asked how they might rouse public interest in a dormant issue without an actual attack forcing the matter, the former Norwegian prime minister said: “Aren’t we intelligent enough when presented information in a powerful, balanced and factual fashion to believe we can avoid incidents of catastrophe to compel people to work a little faster?”
If that’s not a rhetorical question, then I fear the answer is: No.
Meanwhile, Plame had another moment in the Cannes spotlight with the premiere on Thursday of "Fair Game," about the story of her being outed by journalist Bob Novak and the political firestorm that followed.
Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity”) directed “Fair Game,” based on Plame’s book and starring Naomi Watts as Plame (pictured above: actor Khaled el-Nabawy, directors Lucy Walker and Doug Liman, attorney Alan Grodin).
At the earlier news conference Plame had this to say: “I went from a job I loved to all of a sudden being the focus of unreal media attention. I found that extremely difficult.”
Perhaps now she’ll get the last word.