The future of auteur cinema in theaters is negotiated in the basements of festivals

In the basement of a conference center, under floors that house movie theaters and red carpets, the future of auteur cinema is decided. It may sound exaggerated, but it really is in those corridors and on those counters where deals are closed on what is going to be produced in the coming months, but, mainly, where the films that can be seen in movie theaters are bought and sold. (or on platforms) next season.

There are other markets, but none like the Cannes Festival. Although on television we only see glamour, photos, Albert Serra with his provocations and Ruben Östlund winning the Palme d'Or, the authentic festival takes place in the basements of the Palais. That's where it all makes sense. Without what happens in the so-called 'Marché' there would be no auteur cinema. Distributors from all countries attend with their teams (and even with scouts like Pucho, from Vetusta Morla)willing to see the most promising adult cinema.

Everyone wants the tastiest trophies—the movies by well-known directors without a distributor—and everyone is on the lookout for gems on the loose. This year, for example, one of those surprises was The Eight Mountains, which from its first pass on the market made all the distributors put their eyes on it. Finally, it was Avalon who took her away, but she was the most prized prey of a Cannes where many arrived with a homeowner. This edition of the market was special. It was the first time that it developed normally after COVID, and that is why almost no one wanted to miss it.

"Cannes brings us all together," explains Enrique Costa, a distributor who, after years at Avalon, founded his own company, Elastica, last year with María Zamora, with which he bought two of last year's auteur film successes at Cannes. Drive my Car and The worst person in the world, one of the few box office successes of this type of cinema. "For us, this is the most important market. 95% of the films in the Official Selection at Cannes end up being distributed in theaters, and that doesn't happen at any other festival. This is the place where everything is decided," he adds.

The BTeam team moved to Cannes in search of new films. Lara Camiña, Alex Lafuente and Ania Jones are responsible for having brought Another Round to Spain, one of the few cinema successes during the pandemic. A film that they bought as a script, an option to buy cheaper, since the film has not yet been shot and that is used when there is a powerful name behind it, in this case Thomas Vinterberg. The play went round for them. "The films of the year come from Cannes, not from Berlin or Toronto. The ones that work at the box office are here," says Camiña

A day's routine may involve watching four movies, several meetings, and then pooling what you've seen to see if anything is worthwhile. If the movie doesn't connect with them, it's best to leave the room and see another one. You can't waste time and you can't make cold decisions either, because before making an offer you have to think about everything. "You have to analyze the market, these years there have been so many changes that it is increasingly difficult. And you have to make numbers, even if it is on a napkin. Because you can love a movie, but you have to make numbers before making an offer" , adds Jones, emphasizing that the sooner they are clear if they are interested, the better to have an advantage over other colleagues. As his colleague Álex Lafuente completes: "Success is not buying the best film, it is buying it in the right conditions so that it is profitable, you can have Another Round or Drive my Car, but if you have paid a lot for it, it is not a good business for you".

Although there is quite a bit of secrecy with what is paid for a film, during the Cannes Festival the magazine Ecran Total publishes several issues in which it breaks down the budgets of French titles and also various international sale prices. For example, from Ecran they consider that the price to distribute Les amandiers, a film in competition, outside of France is around 90,000 euros, although each territory then negotiates its own price. This year the prices have returned to normal, although the box office has not. That increase makes distributors think a lot more about what movies to buy, since people have not returned to theaters to see that type of cinema.

"Prices have risen a lot, but not only because of the recovery, but because they have noticed that there is movement in Spain of distributors. There are new people who come very strong in the market and there is competition, because the films that work are fewer and fewer. The box office is focused on fewer titles and that makes it more aggressive in the offers and the sales agents are seeing it and they are the ones who come with higher prices that do not match the reality of the box office. an unrealistic situation with what we later find when we premiere", says Álex Lafuente of this edition.

A veteran of the Cannes market is Enrique González Kuhn, general director of Caramel Films, a distributor that has released the latest Palme d'Or, Titane, in Spain. He has been going for 25 years and believes that this has been "the most difficult" of his entire life. "The hardest, because you don't know what to buy. Now they say that you have to buy films for young people who are going to theaters, but Cannes is not for young people, it's something else, it's a festival for people who like the cinema and focused on theatrical release and now the collection is meager. Instead, the distributors have bought as if there were no pandemic. I don't know if it's a leap forward. I have the feeling that if you buy and sell so much it's because there is confidence and that after the summer, with the masks completely gone, things can improve," he says forcefully.

He confirms that prices are very high and believes that it is due to two reasons, first because "sellers have to recover what they have lost with COVID and films have become more expensive with the pandemic." He also highlights that the distributors are "hungry" and now there are other actors who buy, such as the platforms, and in the end they all want the same thing: "Titles with faces and eyes, and that is very expensive, because among so much offer we all want the same thing, names of directors and actors to pass the filter so that they have visibility. We are invaded by content at the price of gold".

Not only the distributors, but also the platforms come to Cannes in search of new acquisitions for their catalogs to differentiate themselves from their competitors. This is the case of Filmin, a Spanish company that presented El agua there, which will be released in cinemas before reaching its platform, and that what it is looking for in Cannes are films that may "be relevant" for its subscribers and that arouse "the interest of critics and the media to focus on the film, and therefore on the platform, and that translates to more views and subscribers", explains Jaume Ripoll, co-founder, editorial and development director of the company.

He has also noticed the price increase and believes that it is paradoxical with the state of the box office. He puts it down to a post-COVID euphoria that has created a bubble. For a few years, Filmin has also acted as a travel companion for distributors such as Avalon or Elastica. It helps them in their theatrical releases and they are already paving the way for those titles, which will end up on Filmin. "We are traveling companions for the films, we are distributors and exhibitors", explains Jaume Ripoll and highlights that in films like Broker and Triangle of Sadness they will follow that path together with Avalon. They have also acquired others solo, such as Les amandiers or The night of the 12th, to which is added the new work by Lars Von Trier and the rest of his work to complete his filmography, as well as classics such as the work of Jean Eustache .

Before, they were clear about what worked, films for "the ladies of Fuencarral street in Madrid or Sarria in Barcelona, ​​but they are not going", recalls Lara Camiña. That is why Enrique Costa bets on "forgetting 2019". "We cannot yearn for something that may or may not happen again. We have to adapt to the new public. A young public that is interested in this cinema. There is The Worst Person in the World, which interested people between 20 and 30-something I am worried about the next six months, because there is a lot of cinema to release. There is not room for everyone and the public is not filling the theaters as they should. "

Five years ago everything that passed through Cannes reached the theaters. Not only its Official Section, but those of the parallel sections, where the future of auteur cinema is found. Now, those small movies have it "more and more complicated". "There is an auteur cinema that used to depend on theaters and that I think is going to have a very difficult time reaching Spain. We are being very cautious, and the films from the Directors' Fortnight or Un Certain Regard that were previously distributed are now not going to reach theaters," says Lafuente. "Now it is very risky, before it compensated us because there was a margin of error, and the pity is that they are going to be left without reaching Spain," adds his partner Lara P. Camiña. Consequences of a market that has mutated radically in less than two years and that hopes to settle down while waiting for people to return to theaters.

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