Guillaume Esmiol is gearing up for his first edition flying solo as the executive director of the Cannes Film Festival’s Marché du Film, which kicks off in less than a week to run from May 16 to 24.
“We’re in the thick of it right now. There’s still a lot to tie up,” says Esmiol, who took over from long-time market boss Jérôme Paillard at the end of the 2022 edition.
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On the back of current registrations, Esmiol is predicting record-breaking attendance this year as the travel restrictions of the pandemic recede into history.
“The numbers are good,” he says.
As of May 9, there were 11,200 accreditations, which is 15% more than for the same period last year, when the market registered a final figure of 12,100 accreditations in total.
“I think we could beat our 2019 record when there were just over 12,500 accredited guests,” says Esmiol. “It could be that people have registered earlier… we’ll see.”
One confirmed trend is an uptick in the attendance of Asian professionals, particularly from China.
As of early May, around 170 Mainland Chinese professionals had registered against a total of 25 last year. Another 80 Hong Kong professionals are also due to attend, against 30 in 2022.
Esmiol notes that this figure is still way below the 2019 record for China, when 620 Chinese professionals attended, to make up the fifth-biggest national delegation that year.
Attendance out of South Korea and Japan has also strengthened although the professionals from both these territories were already back in 2022.
Professionals from Spain, which is the market’s Country of Honor this year, will also be out in force.
Ukraine will also have a strong presence thanks to ongoing support from the Marché as Russia’s invasion on. Alongside free market badges for Ukrainian professionals, the market has laid on a series of special events including the Ukraine in Focus Pitching Session presenting 10 feature films in development.
Iran’s diaspora filmmaking community will also be in the spotlight amid the ongoing Woman Life Freedom protests back home.
The fledgeling Iranian Independent Filmmaker Association (IIFMA) is taking its first-ever stand in the Palais, while official government cinema bodies are not welcome this year.
Continuity & Renewal
Esmiol originally joined the Marché du Film in 2020, in the role of deputy director and then co-executive director alongside Paillard, having begun his career in business development and digital media innovation roles at TFI, followed by a stint at corporate start-up incubator Wefound.
When Paillard took control of the market in the mid-1990s, it was confined to the stands in the Palais des Festivals and officially welcomed around 3,000 professionals.
Under his watch, the sales offices dotted up and down the Croisette and the streets behind were also officially incorporated into the Marché du Film.
The market’s range of activities also grew progressively to cater to other parts of the film industry chain, as well as embrace innovations and technologies shaping its future
Esmiol has inherited a vast event spanning the film sales market and industry screenings; the exhibitor halls; 17 genre, sector or territory-focused programs – such as Cannes XR, Animation Day and Producers Network and Cannes Docs; and a conference program featuring more than 100 individual industry panels and talks.
“Today, it’s three events in one market. There’s the historic market selling completed films; the programs helping producers find finance and partners for projects, and then all the talks and panels we organize about every aspect of the business, it’s a vast palette,” says Esmiol.
“I was lucky to work alongside Jérôme for two years and to have a team that also knows the event well. I’ve got a strong base,” he adds when quizzed on the challenge of getting to grips with the role.
Long-time team members include Operation & Sales Director Maud Amson, Administrative Director Michèle Waterhouse, Cinema Programming Director Alice Kharoubi, Head of Programs & Training Aleksandra Zakharchenko and Head of Conferences Anahit Ordian.
Amid the continuity, there is also a strong desire to innovate and update, he adds
“We’re lucky to be connected to the most powerful film festival in the world, which naturally draws professionals. Cannes will always be Cannes but that alone is not enough. We’re constantly questioning old habits and our services,” says Esmiol. “We looked at a lot of subjects this year and gave ourselves a lot of work as a result.”
New initiatives include the Cannes Investors Circle, an invitation-only event aimed at connecting private investors and high-end independent feature film projects; the Spotlight Asia Program, fostering intercontinental cooperation between professionals in Asia and Europe, and Cannes Makers, a three-day talent incubator event aimed at international sales, distribution and film promotion professionals under the age of 30.
The latter initiative was set up in response to a gap in the offering of training initiatives aimed at emerging sales and distribution professionals, says Esmiol.
“It will look at the state-of-play in the business today and also discuss what the business could look like tomorrow, bringing in topics like innovation and technologies like blockchain as well as questions around sustainable development and diversity,” he explains.
Esmiol says that looking after the sales companies and buyers attending the Marché du Film remains a priority, even if this part of the market’s activities rarely generates press releases.
“Films sales is the at the heart of the historic market and for me, it remains paramount. We’ve been talking a lot to sales companies this year and even ran a workshop in the lead-up to the Marché to look at what we could do to improve their experiences, around screening and venues,” he says.
One innovation to have come out of the consultations is a dedicated entrance for sales companies and buyers.
“We want to improve fluidity and make it easier for them to get in and out. It’s among a myriad of small things we’ve done,” says Esmiol.
Other tweaks include the revival of two screening rooms in the Riviera exhibition hall. They join four screens in the Lerins exhibition space, 12 screens in the Palais and another 12 screens outside the Palais precinct in Cannes.
Esmiol says the revival of the Riviera screens, which existed prior to the pandemic, is also aimed at increasing footfall in the Palais exhibition halls.
“When buyers come for a screening, it also benefits the other exhibitors,” he says.
The development is also part of a wider rethinking of the configuration of the exhibition halls in the Palais, which have waned in popularity in recent years as sales companies opt for spaces outside, although Esmiol reports strong booking this year.
Stands will be grouped in the Riviera exhibition hall and underground space of the Palais, while the Lerins exhibition hall will be set up as networking space and will also house the new Bistrot du Lérins.
“Exhibitors will be able to hold quick business lunches close to their stands with a view over the bay… it’s something we’ve done at the request of the stand-holders,” says Esmiol.
Outside of the Palais precinct, the market is also launching the new Plage de Palmes beachfront venue on the Plage de Goeland, the first private beach after the Palais.
“We’ve booked it for the entire two weeks. It represents a substantial budget,” says Esmiol.
The venue – a joint venture with the festival – will host the festival masterclasses and market summits such as the new Investors Circle, Streamers Forum and Global Virtual Production Summit and the opening night party celebrating the country of honor Spain.
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