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Cannes Report

Where the Real Business of Movies Gets Done

The private sector and state-sponsored film offices get along swimmingly at the market away from the French festival's glare.


CANNES — From press conference diatribes to more subtle forms of protest--T-shirts bearing a bull's-eye over a map of Serbia, for instance--you can't keep the world's troubles entirely out of the Cannes Film Festival, no matter how many Mercedeses and Manolo Blahnik pumps you scatter around the place.

You can't keep it out of films either, regardless of the "Star Wars" hype outside or the presence of "EDtv" inside. And at the festival's market--the place where real business is done and real hearts are broken--the less glamorous end of international cinema is exposed to the light.

Under what you might call the big top of global movies, there are booths for TurkFilm. And Hungarofilm. And Media Luna, which is promoting something called "The Einstein of Sex," about "the life and work of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld--Jew, homosexual and turn of the century sex researcher."

Despite the fliers and posters for International Pictures London, company executive Sam Firth says IP doesn't have anything in the festival per se. But over at a junior festival that's one of Cannes' offshoots, IP has "Bloody Angels," one of the several films for which they're seeking distribution. "We also have a slate of projects that we're hoping to find financing for," she said, her fax machine providing frantic backup. "We send out approximately 600 to 700 faxes before we even come, and some of the films have been shown in festivals and markets before, so distributors know what's here."

So if the distributors know what you've got and haven't picked them up yet, what hopes do the films have? "Well, there are lots of different-size distributors," Firth said. "Some films might get limited release; you know that some films aren't really meant for huge theatrical releases even though they may be very fine films."

The market is one place in the world where the private sector and fierce nationalism--or continentalism, perhaps--do better than coexist. Not far from Firth and adorned with a huge poster for French director Leos Carax's "Pola X," the headquarters of Eurimages--which finances productions and tries to find markets for European films--is open for business.

"We want to be present, talk to producers, find possible distribution for some of our films and to a lesser degree talk to theater owners who have agreed to set aside a certain number of screens for European films," said Eurimages' Christoph Weber. "But our main aim is to give production support to European films, which takes up about 80% to 85% of our annual budget."

Weber said he doesn't see his group's main goal as fighting the dominance of American cinema in Europe's movie houses. "It's not fighting, it's strengthening," he said about Eurimages' role in promoting home-grown films.

With eight films in the festival, Eurimages is having a good year, although its reviews have been brutal. The opening-night feature "The Barber of Siberia" received Eurimages financing, as did Peter Greenaway's "8 1/2 Women" in addition to "Pola X."

Having a less impressive year here, perhaps, but a great one back home is the Finnish Film Foundation, whose director, Kirsi Tykkylainen, said that in the first four months of this year native cinema has seized 50% of the Finnish audience share. "This is extremely good, exceptionally good," she said. "No other country in Europe has it that good. In addition, the top four films at the box office have been Finnish as well.

"That could be bad," she added with a laugh, "but the films have also been really good, not just the easy local comedies that used to get the box office. They're serious films. I would say that what we've been doing at the Finnish Film Foundation for the last three years has been paying off."

Among the Finnish films being screened in the market--separate from the public or press screenings of official and competition movies--is "Juha," the latest by Finland's best-known director, Aki Kaurismaki, an all-but-silent remake of a classic silent Finnish film.

"It hasn't been an audience success," Tykkylainen said, "but we knew that before and still think it's good to finance films like that."

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