The Cannes Festival Opens With a Search for Money

Film professionals made clear that the quest is all about finding financing for movies, and less about buying product

ALSO READ: "Cannes to ‘Robin Hood'" No Bullseye."

It was a big damn party on the Majestic beach to celebrate the opening of “Robin Hood,” as the premiere of the Cannes Film Festival. The live band sang Donna Summer, Medievally-inclined performers twirled fire-batons and the champagne flowed freely as Russell Crowe nuzzled his wife contentedly in the corner of an overhang.

Meanwhile guests exchanged nightmare stories about how long it took them to get around that volcano cloud. (We’d like to give Pete Hammond an extra shout-out for flying via Munich to get here. )

The movie seemed to have been received respectfully, if without any great enthusiasm. Universal is still hoping to see an opening this weekend in the $40 million range. 

But that’s not what has people talking at Cannes this year. Even en route to the festival, film professionals gearing up for a week of deal-making made clear that the quest is all about finding financing for movies, and less about buying product.

With the arthouse market is on life support, and producers and financiers told WaxWord that fewer movies than ever can expect to be bought this year – a handful, rather than the few dozen that usually get sold out the market.

CAA is here in force – though they’re not throwing any parties on any yachts this year — and its film finance department is under strict orders to scour the Riviera for anything that smells like money. With the studios cutting back on their financing thresholds and Wall Street nowhere close to stepping up to the plate, it will fall to places like Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Russia and India (does Big Reliance have a little brother?) along with the reliably star-struck billioniares to fill the gap.

The only bright spot, said producer Ashok Armitraj (who will be feted for completing 100 films at a Variety do this week), is that the cost of production has come down slightly. Movie stars have cut back on their fees, and his Hyde Park Entertainment will be able to make more movies with less capital than in previous  years.

Arthouse distributor Richard Lorber, of Kino Lorber, was one of the few arriving at the festival in a “glass half-full” kind of mood. Lorber sees the landscape changing for the better, and is eager to find opportunities. But he releases movies in a handful of theaters; this festival is made for his kind of business. 

Count on Lorber and IFC and Sony Classics to be picking up quality titles for crumbs.

And stay tuned to see if the Weinsteins actually announce that Miramax deal.

That's just Evening the First. More to come.