A Cannes of worms for indie films

Thu Jul 31, 2008 4:34am EDT
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By Gregg Goldstein

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - At the Cannes Film Festival in May, buyers rushed to see the latest work from three noted American filmmakers: Steven Soderbergh's "Che," James Gray's "Two Lovers" and Charlie Kaufman's "Synecdoche, New York."

But the festival ended without any of the films clinching a U.S. sale.

It took two months for the $20 million-plus "Synecdoche" to land a U.S. distribution deal with Sony Pictures Classics. 2929 Prods. gave up on finding an outside buyer for its $12 million "Lovers," deciding to release it through sister company Magnolia Pictures. And Soderbergh's $65 million "Che" is still searching for a home.

The tough market the three films encountered reflects an indie film industry rattled by folding specialty divisions, economic woes and the challenge of keeping films in theaters. A climate of risk-aversion not seen since the death of auteur-driven films in the 1970s has set in.

"I guarantee you 'Synecdoche' and 'Lovers' would've been bought quickly a couple years ago," said Overture Films CEO Chris McGurk, whose company is enjoying success with "The Visitor." "but now that there are fewer buyers, and fewer healthy buyers, they both sat there."

Soderbergh's Spanish-language Che Guevara biopic encountered resistance despite its star Benicio Del Toro earning best actor honors at Cannes.

The Weinstein Co. had been in exclusive pre-Cannes negotiations for North American rights with seller Wild Bunch based on footage shown in Berlin. But a deal couldn't be completed before "Che's" Cannes premiere, so both parties agreed to delay further discussions till then.

Wild Bunch head Vincent Maraval hoped to get a $10 million pickup to pay back investors immediately but now says his company would need just a $4 million deal with longer-term payouts. Four indie offers are on the table, though not the Weinstein Co., he said.   Continued...

<p>U.S. director Steven Soderbergh attends a news conference for the film "Che" at the 61st Cannes Film Festival May 22, 2008. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier</p>