India Takes Over the Cannes Market as Chinese Executives Are Stuck at Home

India is the country of honor at the Cannes Film Market and consequently a massive contingent from the country is descending upon the Croisette. Variety understands that some 400 attendees are winging their way from India, and that French embassies across the country were working at capacity to issue visas.

That stands in contrast with the attendance from other parts of Asia, further East. Attendance of participants from Hong Kong and China is massively down compared with pre-COVID times. Korean companies are back in respectable numbers, with some attending a physical market outside their home country for the first time in over two years. The solid attendance of Korean executives also reflects the selection of Korean films across multiple sections of the festival.

“I’m very excited to be back in Cannes, it has been three years for us,” said Danny Lee, senior manager at Contents Panda, part of the Next Entertainment World studio. “There are many Korean buyers here too.”

The government-mandated travel restrictions that persist in Hong Kong (compulsory quarantine is down to a week now, having previously been 21 days, but the government maintains an aggressive approach towards airlines that carry passengers later found to be COVID positive) mean that 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 was previously the hub of Asian sales and film finance — even if that role has been somewhat eroded by the increasing maturity of the mainland Chinese film industry and the prominence of the Korean industry.

Hong Kong companies including Golden Network and Good Move Media are not attending, and will instead attempt to launch films and maintain business relations remotely. Others, including Edko Films and Media Asia, are making the effort and will be present.

“We have a big-budget film ‘Kowloon Walled City’ to sell. Given how difficult it is currently to pre-sell Asian films, we need to talk to people in person,” said Fred Tsui, GM, head of sales and international co-production at Media Asia.

China has limited in- and out-bound travel for months, as it seeks to achieve a COVID-zero policy through lockdowns, mass testing and border controls. This week it imposed its most stringent travel restrictions for decades, banning all but essential overseas travel.

That leaves Cannes without the mainland Chinese companies which, in pre-COVID years, had regularly grabbed headlines. They were not necessarily volume buyers, but were previously involved in large package deals and big-budget co-productions. Other Chinese firms were looking to invest in international IP that could be exploited across multiple media.

The COVID era, however, has coincided with a more generalized slowdown of the Chinese film market and a politically directed retrenchment towards local content. That makes it difficult to quantify China’s loss to Cannes.

But, it is perhaps more than symbolic that Wednesday’s Cannes Market opening party,  is this year sponsored by India. China had been its 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” is premiering 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 be at the pavilion inauguration, but contracted COVID.

India will be prominently visible throughout the festival this year. Actor Deepika Padukone is on the jury for the main feature film competition. Oscar-winner A.R. Rahman’s directorial debut, “Le Musk,” is premiering at the market’s Cannes XR program. Indian filmmaker Shaunak Sen’s Sundance grand jury prize winning documentary “All That Breathes” is showing as a special screening. And Indian auteur Satyajit Ray’s “The Adversary” (1970) and Aravindan Govindan’s “The Circus Tent” will be screened at the festival’s Cannes Classics strand.

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

“When you are a country of honor at the world’s largest film market you are on the radar of the Western world — it could be because of your creativity and international appeal, or maybe because of business potential and mass audience reach. We seem to be better-known for the latter,” said Samir Sarkar, who is co-producing Cannes’ La Fabrique project selection “Starfruits” via his Indo-Singaporean outfit Magic Hour Films.

“As far as our creativity and international appeal goes, it’s time we nurture and support those filmmakers that can take Indian cinema into something more meaningful and successful for world audiences,” Sarkar added.

From Pakistan, Saim Sadiq’s feature debut “Joyland,” produced, among others, by Indian-origin Apoorva Guru Charan, is premiering at the festival’s Un Certain Regard strand.

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