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Cannes: Dollars and Sense

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"I don't have to produce Batman," says Simone Bachini from the comfort of a lounge chair in the Italian Pavilion at the Cannes Film Festival in his charming, stilted English.

"This is a good thing," I think to myself. As much as I enjoyed Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008), the most recent epic installment of the Batman legend made famous by DC Comics, I fully recognize the cinema cannot be populated entirely by superhero antics and dilemmas. I get the feeling Simone recognizes this as well, but his valiant effort at communicating in English, which are far more impressive than my Italian, prevent him from elaborating.

Simone is one half of the dynamic duo who runs Arancia Film, which most recently produced Giorgio Diritti's L'Uomo Che Verrà (The Man Who Will Come), the recipient of the Best Producer Award at the David Di Donatello Awards (the Italian Oscars), and set to debut at Lincoln Center in New York City on June 3rd. Based on historical events and set in Italy 1944 in the aftermath of World War II and the reality of German occupation, L'Uomo Che Verrà tells the story of an 8 year old girl who takes it upon herself to save her baby brother the night before an unprecedented massacre of civilians in her farming community.

Simone is a molecular biologist turned editor turned producer -- not exactly your typical journey to working in the film business, but an interesting one nonetheless. L'Uomo Che Verrà was made for 3.5 million euros, which is, Simone says, "a medium budget for an Italian movie." To put this into some sort of western financial perspective, Juno (2007) was made for $6.5 million USD, Once (2007), the "little indie that could," was made for 130,000 euros, and Avatar (2009) was made for somewhere around $500 million USD.

Simone's first 2005 feature project with Giorgio, Ill Vento Fa II Sui Giro (The Wind Blows Round), was made for 400,000 euros. But even the country that gave us Leonardo da Vinci, Federico Fellini, and Luciano Pavarotti is facing budget cuts to the arts. It's no accident that many of the badges encircling the necks of festival attendees bear the scrolling bulletin "Tax Shelter." Worldwide federal and state governments are facing budget cuts everywhere. Notably absent from this year's festival is the state of New York itself.

Indeed, it is only Day 7 of the Cannes Film Festival and it is a front-loaded festival at that, meaning most people are getting in and getting out. Offices and studios are sending fewer people for less time. A 10:15PM market screening of Aktan Arym Kubat's Svet-ake (The Light Thief), a Kyrgyzstan-Germany-France-Netherlands co-production, which screened in Director's Fortnight earlier in the week, wasn't even half full. The streets along the Croisette at night are spacious.

Variety Magazine, a staple of the film industry in news, reviews, taste, and trends, usually puts out a daily paper at festivals like Cannes. Film industry executives and personnel run to grab the issue after their morning café crème and croissant, while it is still hot on the stands. Tomorrow is only Wednesday, May 19th - Day 8, and it will be the last daily issue at the festival that the paper puts out. The festival runs through to Sunday, May 23rd, 2010.

Henry Deas, a 30 year veteran of Cannes and Director of Markets and Festivals for Variety notes, "We are still a profitable business, but the changes are like everyone else." Henry's days are full during Cannes, "I go see all the people in the different offices and talk to the American distributors" -- ("of which there are very few left," I think to myself) - "and see if they have something they need to get out in front of everybody. We're the ones that put it out there. When people advertise in Variety they are either advertising an idea, or we advertise screening times. Today, for example, HP (Hewlett-Packard), has taken a back cover. It proves that not only are we really important to the film industry, but also we're important to people who want to be in the film industry, whether it be a consumer product, or something else," Henry explains easily, with all the genteel nature of his Southern upbringing shining through his decades ago relocation to Los Angeles.

What does "advertising an idea" mean? It means the Day 6 issue of Variety at Cannes features the following as the headline: "Epic Adventure in Pre-Production / Cyrenaica: The Lost Frontier / A True Story of the People of Libya - Will Mu'Ammar Qaddafi Support Their Legacy?..." The accompanying text goes on to report that the $100-$125 million budgeted film has been stalled due to heated tensions among Hollywood, Libya, and the Qaddafi government. It is the hope that the front page coverage will grant the producer the meetings he wants and needs to make this film.

I wonder if the same thing would translate to, say, The New York Times. What if we printed what people hoped might happen or were looking to nudge people toward thinking/wanting? (One might argue we already do this, but I'm talking on a more altruistic level.) "Epic Adventure in Gulf Clean-Up / Slick Oil to Serve as Humanitarian Glue / People and the Government Band Together Tirelessly to Solve Oil Spill - Will this be the First Example in a Trend?"

"I remember my dad was watching a movie when he was a little kid," confides Henry in the heat of the direct midday sun at the Grand Hotel. "My grandmother told the story of how he jumped up and ran toward the screen and said 'Stop it, stop it, stop it!' Well, that's what you need," he laughs fondly at the passionate image.

"Everyone here (at Variety) is working here because he/she loves film and loves the people who make them and wants the filmmakers to succeed. That's something you don't ever equate with the business magazine. That's what we're made up of - every advertising person here loves to go to the films. We don't just serve out something. We know what our films are. We know how we can help somebody. Writers are saying what they actually really feel about the film."

Silvia Panáková, one half of the Slovakian producing team Arina Film & TV, which she runs with her husband, is being featured in "Producers on the Move," a program the Cannes market runs to give up and coming producers with momentum in their careers from around the world the opportunity to network with one another. Slovakia is a country of 5 million people with limited funds but burgeoning creativity and cinematic contributions. Slovakia can usually be counted on for approximately "10% of the budget on co-productions," according to Silvia.

Ivan Vojnar's Zenhy Mojho Muza (My Husband's Women), which was produced by Arina Film, was a Hungary-Czech Republic-Slovakia co-production which was completed for 1 million euros and ran in cinemas and on television in each of the respective countries. 2010 also marks the 8th year of the Slovakian script competition for young authors up to age 35, which Silvia organizes.

"It was a very hard experience with my first feature," Silvia shares candidly, referred to My Husband's Women, "because after 7 days of shooting, my son was born."

Big budgets or small budgets, big countries or small countries, it seems the film world is still made up of people who are, in the end, only human.