Cannes market: India should shine, China stays at home

India is the country of honor at the Cannes Film Market and consequently a huge contingent flocks from the country onto the Croisette. diversity expects around 400 participants to head out from India and that French embassies across the country are working at capacity to issue visas.

That contrasts with visitor numbers from other parts of Asia, further east. Attendance from Hong Kong and China participants has fallen massively compared to pre-COVID times. Korean companies have returned in significant numbers, with some participating in a physical market outside of their home country for the first time in over two years. The solid participation of Korean leaders also reflects the selection of Korean films in several sections of the festival.

“I’m delighted to be back in Cannes, it’s been three years for us,” said Danny Lee, Senior Manager at Contents Panda, part of Next Entertainment World Studio. “There are also many Korean buyers here.”

The government-mandated travel restrictions that remain in place in Hong Kong (mandatory quarantine has now shrunk to a week from 21 days previously, but the government maintains an aggressive crackdown on airlines carrying passengers later than COVID-19 were found positive) mean that the flight conditions and the ability to return home are simply too uncertain for many.

That, in turn, deprives the Cannes market of executives from what used to be the center of Asian sales and film financing — though that role has been somewhat eroded by the maturing of mainland China’s film industry and the prominence of the Korean industry.

Hong Kong companies, including Golden Network and Good Move Media, are not participating and will instead seek to launch films and maintain business relationships remotely. Others including Edko Films and Media Asia are making an effort and will be in attendance.

“We have a big budget film ‘Kowloon Walled City’ for sale. Since it’s difficult to pre-sell Asian films right now, we need to talk to people in person,” said Fred Tsui, GM, director of sales and international co-production at Media Asia.

China has restricted entry and exit for months as it tries to achieve a COVID-zero policy through lockdowns, mass testing and border controls. This week it imposed the toughest travel restrictions in decades, banning all but essential international travel.

That leaves Cannes without the mainland Chinese companies that regularly made headlines in the years leading up to COVID. They weren’t necessarily volume buyers, but were previously involved in big package deals and big-budget co-productions. Other Chinese firms wanted to invest in international intellectual property that can be leveraged across multiple mediums.

However, the COVID era has coincided with a broader Chinese film market slowdown and a politically directed reluctance to engage in local content. That makes it difficult to quantify China’s loss to Cannes.

But it is perhaps more than symbolic that Wednesday’s market opening party in Cannes will be sponsored by India this year. China had been their sponsor for several years.

Anurag Singh Thakur, India’s Minister of Information and Broadcasting, will inaugurate the Indian Pavilion in the presence of actor R. Madhavan, whose directorial debut Rocketry will premiere at the market; filmmaker Shekhar Kapur; Prasoon Joshi and Vani Tripathi from the Central Board of Film Certification; Grammy winner Ricky Kej; and a plethora of actors including Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Pooja Hegde, Tamannaah Bhatia and Aditi Rao Hydari.

Bollywood A-lister Akshay Kumar was due to attend the pavilion inauguration but fell ill with COVID.

India will be prominently featured throughout the festival this year. Actress Deepika Padukone sits on the jury for the feature film competition. Oscar-winning director AR Rahman’s directorial debut, “Le Musk,” will premiere on the market’s Cannes XR program. Indian filmmaker Shaunak Sen’s Sundance Grand Jury Award-winning documentary All That Breathes will be screened as a special screening. And ‘The Adversary’ (1970) by Indian auteur Satyajit Ray and ‘The Circus Tent’ by Aravindan Govindan will be screened in the Cannes Classics section of the festival.

TV star Helly Shah will walk the red carpet for L’Oreal and will also promote her film debut Kaya Palat. Multihyphenate Kamal Haasan will be present to promote his new film “Vikram”. Many first looks will be unveiled including Shyam Benegal’s Mujib: The Making of a Nation, the biopic of the late Bangladeshi leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, which is expected to feature Bangladeshi superstar Nusrat Imrose Tisha alongside her filmmaking partner Mostofa Sarwar Farooki. Bangladeshi director/producer Abu Shahed Emon is also expected in Cannes. Also revealed are first looks for Pushan Kripalani’s ‘Goldfish’ and Sandeep Singh’s ‘Safed’.

“If you’re a country of honor in the world’s largest film market, you’re on the western world’s radar — it could be because of your creativity and international appeal, or maybe because of your business potential and reach with mass audiences. We seem to be better known for the latter,” said Samir Sarkar, who is co-producing Cannes’ La Fabrique project selection Starfruits through his Indo-Singapore team Magic Hour Films.

“In terms of our creativity and international appeal, it is time we nurtured and supported those filmmakers who can make Indian cinema something more meaningful and successful for world audiences,” added Sarkar.

Saim Sadiq’s feature film debut “Joyland” from Pakistan, produced by the Indian Apoorva Guru Charan, among others, celebrates its premiere in the program section “Un Certain Regard” of the festival. Cannes market: India should shine, China stays at home

Charles Jones

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