Will Hollywood see a happy ending despite recession?

May 8th, 2009 - 9:15 am ICT by IANS  

Brad Pitt By Andy Goldberg
Los Angeles, May 8 (DPA) Spotting the world’s greatest movie stars at the Cannes film festival might be a little more difficult than usual this year. The number of Hollywood films at the competition is at a record low and US movie studios are cutting back spending on trips to the glamorous French Riviera.

Like every other sector of the US economy, they are feeling the sharp effects of the global economic downturn, industry officials say.

“Everyone’s just scaling back,” says Lynne McCreary, managing director of the American Pavilion, which serves as the hub for Hollywood visitors at the Cannes festival. “People’s budgets are a lot tighter and our sponsorship is down 75 percent.”

Those cutbacks are coming despite the fact that Hollywood is enjoying its most lucrative-ever year at the domestic box office where ticket sales were up 17.5 percent to a record $3.06 billion at the end of April.

But that record take tells only half the story. The two other major strands of film studio income - DVD sales and foreign revenue - are both sharply down.

“Even though domestic box-office admissions are soaring, the global movie business - particularly overseas DVD and television sales - is slumping,” moaned the Los Angeles Times recently.

“International distributors can’t get financing to buy movies, piracy is cutting into overseas ticket sales, foreign currencies are falling in value and key international territories have essentially discontinued acquiring American films.”

In particular Japan has almost stopped buying English language movies in favour of indigenous local movies.

Nonetheless, the glittering Cannes scene will be entirely bereft of Hollywood royalty.

The most prominent American entry in the 20 movie competition is cult director Quentin Tarantino’s ultra-violent World War II rampage “The Inglourious Basterds”.

The plot revolves around a group of American-Jewish soldiers put together by a character, played by Brad Pitt, to strike terror into the hearts of Germany’s occupying forces in France.

They join causes with a beautiful young French Jewess who seeks revenge on the Nazis for killing her entire family.

The other US movie in competition is Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock”, based on the memoir of the founder of the historic US music festival, and starring Liev Schreiber, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Emile Hirsch.

There may be richer pickings for the US film industry outside of competition. Major star power will fly in for Terry Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” - the film Heath Ledger was working on when he died last year.

Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law, who all played part of Ledger’s unfinished role are expected to attend the movie’s premiere.

Another big US moment will come when the festival opens with Pixar’s new animated tale “Up”.

This tells the story of an old curmudgeon who almost realises his life’s dream to voyage around the world in his house tethered to thousands of helium balloons. The only trouble is he gets a pesky kid as a stowaway.

Some veteran festival watchers say the inclusion of only two US movies might reflect the low regard for US culture around the world, following the disastrous foreign policies of ex-US president George Bush.

But Cannes’ general manager and artistic director, Thierry Fremaux, had a more prosaic explanation.

At a time when the success of movies such as “Slumdog Millionaire” has highlighted the increased globalisation of world cinema, Hollywood’s film industry experienced a major setback as a protracted writers’ strike postponed production last year for several months.

“I think it’s a coincidence but I wondered if it could have had something to do with the writers strike,” he said of the dearth of US offerings.

“We would have liked to have more, like `Public Enemies’ from Michael Mann, for example, but that is coming out in July.”

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