CANNES France (Reuters) - While attention in Cannes is focused on film premieres and stars on the red carpet, movie sales and deals struck by high rollers and bit players are what keep the Mediterranean seaside town awash in money.
Eighteen film titles ranging from 83-year-old French director Jean-Luc Godard's "Adieu au Langage" (Goodbye to Language) to 25-year-old Canadian director Xavier Dolan's "Mommy" are competing for the top Palme d'Or prize that will be announced on Saturday night.
But that is just a drop in the bucket compared to what festival officials estimate are some 5,000 films shown here, in complete form or as trailers, to potential buyers or investors.
There were fewer big-budget Hollywood titles in the Cannes market this year, but Jerome Paillard, chief executive of the Marche du Film (Film Market), sees that as cyclical.
"It's not necessarily a short-term threat because most of the business we do isn't on those sorts of films," Paillard told Reuters in an interview.
"You know we have 5,000 titles in the market and this doesn't change. The diversity of Cannes is still there."
It's enough to attract big names, like veteran producer Harvey Weinstein, and newcomers like media mogul Haim Saban.
The Weinstein Co announced it had bought the U.S. distribution rights to the musical film "Sing Street" set in Dublin during the 1980s, with a soundtrack from U2's Bono and the Edge, for what trade publications said was $3 million.
It also struck a deal with producers Emile Sherman and Iain Canning, who were behind the global hit "The King's Speech", for worldwide rights to "Lion" about a five-year-old Indian boy who takes the wrong train and is separated from his family for decades, for a reported $12 million.
Saban, a media mogul who heads up the largest American Spanish-language broadcaster, Univision, announced the first big deal for his new Saban Films, purchasing North American rights to Tommy Lee Jones's frontier drama "The Homesman".
With deals like those and others, it wasn't so much a question of quantity as of quality, David Glasser, chief operating officer of The Weinstein Company, told Reuters.
"For The Weinstein Company I think we had an extremely fruitful and well-represented film festival," he said.
"If we're not making it, the stuff we're buying needs to look and feel and smell like a Weinstein movie and we're seeing a lot of product out there. So maybe the volume of numbers may be different this year but I think the quality is up."
GOOD FOR PRODUCERS
The market also appeared to have worked for at least some of the independent producers who Paillard says have become among the most influential forces in the Cannes marketplace.
"This year we have about 5,000 producers, they are really coming to Cannes to find partners, to find co-financiers, co-producers, to find new opportunities and that works, that shows the face of the market we're in," Paillard said.
John Foster, President and CEO of Texas-based Odyssey Pictures Corporation, grumbled at the beginning of the market last week that attendance looked sparse, in part because of a French pilots' strike, but by the end he had changed his tune.
"There was still some good networking, good meetings and good activity," Foster said.
He said his company had struck a deal for North American distribution for a U.S. film, the name of which he said he could not divulge because details remained to be worked out, and he made some contacts for movies he is producing.
"The independent markets are very important for the economy of the modest budget-to-low budget films; that's what makes kind of the flow of the business happen," he said.
It worked also for Julian Richards, producer and director with London-based Jinga films, who said that one of his best titles at Cannes had been the modest-budget Irish-made horror film "The Canal".
It is films like "The Canal", with small budgets and no big-name stars, that Richards said work best in a global market where rights to a country like Malaysia might only net $30,000.
"It's not a sustainable business, though occasionally there's that film that goes through the roof."
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)