5-to-10 years ago, sales agents rolled into San Sebastián straight off Toronto and would reel off lists of major territory distributor sales and pre-sales on a Toronto hit.
A bullish audience/critical response at San Sebastián added more sales territories. The lists, impenetrable for consumers but resonant for B2B readers, drove many key Variety news stories written out of San Sebastián.
But for a couple of years now, such sales litany lists are becoming ever rarer. Whether this is another death- knell for the international arthouse business, however, is open to question.
Several factors may be at work. Acquisition rates have plunged on most international non-popcorn films.
“I don’t think there were less sales at Toronto,” Wild Bunch’s Vincent Maraval said Tuesday at a San Sebastián round table, New Agents in Film Production and Distribution. But high- end sales companies have lost the habit of reeling off sales to the press, he added.
Second, on smaller or niche movies, sales have contracted. “Few films sell everywhere. A larger number are now festival titles with less sales,” Wide Management founder Loic Magneron said at San Sebastián.
Also, the value of San Sebastián is moving on. Its business now cuts multiple ways. One is sales agents’ pick-up announcements, often in August, on San Sebastián bows or Toronto titles segueing to San Sebastián, such as Beta Cinema on Soldiers: A Story from Ferentari, Films Distribution on Mademoiselle Paradis, Film Constellation on Life and Nothing More, and Film Factory Ent. on Dying.
San Sebastián remains vital to glean positive reviews on foreign-language movies when Toronto media coverage focuses heavily on select star-laden U.S. titles. “More and more, San Sebastián is used for promotion,” said Latido Films head Antonio Saura. Moreover, “it’s fundamental for Spain for sales, promotion and opening a movie,” he added.
Distributors moved smartly before or in the Basque Country resort to reveal domestic deals on key festival titles, such as acquiring A Kind of Family.
Smaller title sales companies still use San Sebastián to confirm breakout potential of titles, such as Wide Management on well-reviewed San Sebastián competition contender Pororoca.
At a Variety-hosted Nurturing New Talents round table on Tuesday, Wild Bunch sales head Eva Diederix commented on Wild Bunch’s ever-greater involvement in production. It’s not the only company. One tenor of business announcements made out of this year’s San Sebastián looks set to be producers or sales agent partners announcing pick-ups or cast on projects with a view to snagging completion finance, often for Latin American producers via a European co-production partner. Latido and Colombia’s 64- A Films announced a double-title deal on two Carlos Moreno projects, for instance.
San Sebastian’s hefty Europe-Latin America Co-production Market can advance the process of tying down international partners on feature film projects. Beyond Spain and occasionally France or Latin America, straight sales deals broached and sealed at San Sebastián now prove relatively rare.
“We all love coming to San Sebastián but the festival itself is not really a sales market,” said Diederix. That role is now reserved indeed to very few fest events in the world.