Issue date: 
Monday, 10 July 2023

Each May, the city of Cannes on the French Riviera (or Côte d’Azur) is transformed from a quiet Mediterranean seaside resort into the densest concentration of film industry activity on the planet. Over 200,000 people descend there every year to take part in the Festival de Cannes.

This year’s festival took place from 16-24 May, and was the largest yet, with more than 14,000 accredited participants from over 120 countries.

This year the NZFC Producer International Travel Fund supporteed 11 producers to attend the Festival de Marché du Film (Cannes Film Market). NZFC Spotlight caught up with Morgan Leigh Stewart, Alexander Behse, Matt Noonan and Catherine Fitzgerald post market, to get their impressions and advice to aspiring attendees. 

Image below: Morgan Leigh Stewart, Eva Trebilco, Tui Ruwhiu.

Morgan Leigh Stewart - Producer - The Hot House

What project took you to Cannes?

I have a slate of projects, but the key one I was at Cannes with is Mum, I'm Alien Pregnant, a body-horror-comedy by THUNDERLIPS.

How was the NZFC involved in your trip?

They assisted with travel funding, and also setting up some speed dating sessions, as well as connecting me with additional companies once we were on the ground in Cannes. 

What did you do in Cannes?

I took meetings with sales agents, attended networking events - both run by the NZFC and other organisations (including MDF, and other national film commissions) as well as connecting and reconnecting with fellow NZ producers. This year I did not manage to make it to any films!

Was this trip helpful for your project/career?

Very much so - I feel that strengthening my connections with all the companies and individuals I met with was super important and helpful as my career progresses.

What advice would you give other filmmakers about going to Cannes?

The first time is so hard! But learn from it, manage your expectations, and do it again!

Image below: Tom Levesque, Eva Trebilco, Kevin Dewalt (Canadian co-producer The Televangelist) and Matt Noonan.

Matt Noonan - Producer and Founder of Curious Film 

How were NZFC involved in your trip?

NZFC were integral and essential support for my participation at Cannes in 2023, the staff’s diverse expertise and massive experience are a great asset in navigating the most intense film and project market on the calendar. With the presence of the team and quiver of incentives a NZ producer at Cannes is taken seriously as someone to collaborate and do business with and that’s a great platform. 

What did you do in Cannes?

Focused on meetings with sales agents and potential co-production partners for current projects and future opportunities. 

How was this trip helpful for your project/career?

Attending Cannes is directly beneficial through the meetings and business undertaken, it’s also a great chance to gain insights into the global market, and an inspiration to keep raising the bar and ambition of projects. 

What advice would you give other filmmakers about going to Cannes?

See as many films at you can at the festival, have focused goals for a few specific projects - don’t try and do too many things, be yourself and feel confident, take the opportunity to listen and nurture relationships. Trust your instincts. 

Alexander Behse – Producer - Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web, There is no I in Threesome, Poi-E; The Story of our Song.

What project took you to Cannes?

This year, we took not one, but a brochure of our projects. We made a stopover for a week in LA and a few days in London and the brochure was a great tool during a meeting to quickly give a sense of who we are and what we do and also gave the opportunity for people we met with to latch on things. In Cannes we talked mainly about feature docs, but also about a kick arse anthology feature we are working on at the moment called White Knight/Black Knight, which takes audiences on a wild feature-length roller coaster ride through a genre driven cinematic mixtape.

How were NZFC involved in your trip?

We received $5K of travel support through the Producer Travel Fund, which was a welcome plaster on the otherwise expensive 5-week overseas stint.

What did you do in Cannes and how was this trip helpful for your project/career?

I always like Cannes as an annual assessment of the slate. What works, what do people latch on to. If you go regularly, it becomes a catchup amongst friends and peers and it's easier each year you go. 

What advice would you give other filmmakers about going to Cannes?

Don't have expectations and allow for flexibility to just go with the flow i.e. when people shift meetings, which is inevitable, one has time to shift. And don't party too much. Get up early and have breakfast meetings at 8.30/9am before buyers go into 10am screenings. 

Catherine Fitzgerald – Producer - Blueskin Films Ltd

What project took you to Cannes?

My whole slate takes me to Cannes, but the priority was The Rule of Jenny Pen, the cast, CAA repping and sales agent were announced exclusively by Screen on Day 1

How were NZFC involved in your trip?

The NZFC contributed a travel grant of about 50% of the cost of the trip, which still required frugality, all costs from flights to groceries have skyrocketed since pre Covid

NZFC organised events and functions.

Co-production events:

I attended two speed dating events with potential co-producers from Germany, and from the UK.  These sessions were the most productive and rewarding of any such event organised to date. There was a chance for focused and useful conversations with mainly interested and useful peers.

NZFC Sales Agent Speed dating

These are a good chance to catch up with those with whom I had not previously scheduled a meeting and to discuss the relevant projects on my slate. This year it was difficult to align my diary to make the most of this opportunity, but also had successfully secured meetings with the key acquisitions people I wanted to meet with.

Financiers and Sales agents Lunches

These lunches continue to prove themselves as incredibly useful opportunities to meet new people in a relaxed setting, catch up with or reconnect with established contacts, but inevitably there are the serendipitous, utterly unexpected conversations that offer just the right insight at just the right time to change the course of your thinking on a project not under discussion!

5pm Drinks mixes and mingles

The effort the NZFC staff put into making these extremely valuable networking opportunities is superb. I was sorry other meetings precluded my full participation in these events.

 The NZFC office including the Producers’ Room

The NZFC’s offering space and support for producers is beyond compare and the envy of many. It helps to counter the stress of the stakes of attending Cannes for NZ producers. Cannes is the best place to meet many sales agents in one place but the reality is that acquisitions are not the priority for the biggest selling/buying marketplace. But we have little choice, given our day to day distance from the market, to take advantage of the gathering of world players in Cannes in May.  Working the market is enervating even when things are going well, and having an oasis rain or shine, with colleagues and the NZFC staff is a blessing. Everyone is generous and collegial.

What did you do in Cannes and how was this trip helpful for your project/career?

The opportunity to meet in person with the market partners on your films is valuable in ways in both expected and unexpected ways. I met with the confirmed sales agents and distributors for upcoming films, but equally met with sales agents and distributors I have worked with on other films, both specifically about those films but also to discuss market trends. This trip also gave me a chance to meet in person with the expanding network of financiers who have interest in the films I am working on. Given the films I have produced have been in a huge number of international film festivals, I also appreciate the chance to meet with the programmers I have worked with either as a producer or as a Jury member over the years. And of course connecting with and building on the network of fellow producers. All these networks inevitably nurtures the quality of my big picture strategic thinking and business planning.

I try to attend various seminars and panels such as those offered by the European Observatory who publish the annual  Focus 2023 - World film market trends (2023), always essential reading.

 Each of these links are stimulating and informative

And later in the festival after the market has wrapped, attending as many films as possible is perhaps the most valuable professional development ever. This is the chance to benchmark our work and observe first hand creative innovation and the commercial potential of independent films.

What advice would you give other filmmakers about going to Cannes?

The greatest single challenge for New Zealand based producers is the tyranny of distance from the market. Our colleagues in Europe or the UK can schedule a casual lunch catch up with one of their sales agents to pitch a project at just the right moment, and share thoughts on market trends, what’s working, where the challenges and the opportunities lie in the future global independent market.

During Cannes you can do this, albeit jetlagged, with sales agents, distributors (both ANZ and international), other producers, and film festival programmers; whether in a long scheduled meeting or dinner, or serendipitously in a queue before a screening, or at the myriad of social events.  

There were 14,000 registrations in this year’s market, and at least 4,000 finished or almost finished films seeking buyers. The focus of business is selling and buying, so getting attention for films not yet financed is difficult. It can be crowded and confusing and hard to know who to trust and every year someone gets hit by pick pockets.

In many ways it is best to build the relationships you need at the various project markets around the world before you hit Cannes. Junior executives become senior executives remarkably quickly so never underestimate who you are meeting with. But once you have a network, Cannes is critical to building and expanding it.

The NZFC broker a fantastic set of speed dating opportunities which allows sales agents to be focused about their acquisition meetings with New Zealand producers. They also organise other structured and less formal networking events. Make the most of them if you can.  

Team up with experienced producers who can show you the ropes and help interpret the messages you are getting. In Cannes producers are very, very collegial, we understand what we are all up against.

If you have a film in the Cannes Film Festival, Directors’ Fortnight or Critics Week, then you have an extraordinary opportunity for visibility, but any A list selection of your earlier work also helps you to stand out from the other 13,999.

See as many films as you can, and if you miss them, see them a couple of months later at the NZIFF

Last updated: 
Thursday, 13 July 2023