Cannes draws the stars - and the businessmen

Liz Taylor came. So did Paul Newman and Bette Davis. During the day, they paraded around the beachfront boardwalk La Croissette in this sunny town on the French Riviera. At night, they dressed up in elegant gowns or black ties to attend the 40th anniversary gala of the Cannes Film Festival. But forget all the glamor for a moment. For most people at last month's festival, Cannes was really just a giant trade show, a business convention for people in the moviemaking industry. Instead of the competition for the prestigious Palme d'Or award, the real heart of the festival was the ``March'e International du Film,'' a giant film market that lies behind the glamour.

``Obviously, we have one side that is purely artistic and cultural,'' said Marcel Lathiere, co-directer of the March'e (market). ``But to make artistic and cultural things, you've got to have money.''

That's where the March'e comes in. Now in its 27th year, the market headquarters for the festival was in half-a-dozen grand old beachfront hotels lining La Croissette. All the big names in filmmaking rented out office suites, turning the hotel guest lists into a virtual ``Who's Who'' of the cinema world.

On just one floor of the Hotel Majestic, for example, the Australian National Film Board shared the corridors with big American producers Orion and Lorimar, as well as with the British company Goldcrest.

To get the word out about their films, the moviemakers overran the normally calm hotels with a virtual storm of publicity. Hundreds of flyers and posters advertising the latest screenings were scattered through lobbies and bars, and attached to every tree in sight. Even the Hotel Carlton, one of the most prestigious addresses in town, was covered with 15-foot-tall posters advertising ``Superman IV'' and ``The Living Daylights,'' the latest James Bond movie.

Most of the business done at Cannes centers around the buying and selling of the rights to distribute films internationally. In essence, the city is a huge trading pit for the right to take a film made in one country and sell it to cinemas around the world. For professional film buyers - those who have to line up a schedule of movies for a chain of theaters - the market is a chance to view the year's new ``products.'' For those who come to sell films, Cannes represents a chance to reach buyers quickly.

Kenneth Stutz, an independent distributor from California, is typical. Mr. Stutz owns the rights to an award-winning documentary on Mother Teresa, which has already shown in the United States. He came to Cannes last month looking for a foreign market. ``I can talk here with someone from Yugoslavia, China, and Australia,'' he said. ``Within a week I can do business with virtually every corner of the globe.''

Although most people arrive at Cannes with their films already complete, hundreds of other deals get made for movies in various states of production - and pre-production. On May 18, for example, the American film company Cannon announced that it had just signed actress Meryl Streep for a new picture that will begin shooting in Australia this fall.

But for every star-studded new blockbuster announced here, there are hundreds of poor-quality pornographic and low-budget horror films being peddled by small companies. Movies such as ``Ninja Kill'' and ``Lust on the Orient Express'' may not get much press, but by one estimate they make up more than two-thirds of the films on sale here. Financially, they are a big part of the festival's success.

In sheer numbers, if not publicity, the size and activity of the marketplace completly dwarfs the better-known festival competition. Some 400 movies were shown in private, market-run screenings, versus just 21 films in the running for the Palme d'Or.

The market screenings could not be further from the star-studded, black-tie showings held every night at the Palace. The 400 films played virtually nonstop in 16 small theaters throughout the city - starting at 8:30 every morning and running until after 11 each night. With only professional buyers allowed in, there were often no more than 20 people in the audiences.

Most of the market pros here simply did not have time to take in a leisurely evening at the movies. Midway through the festival, California distributor Stutz said he had seen just one film all week and did not expect to have time for another. That's an activity better left to the stars.

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