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Cannes shaping up a winner for movie industry

Days before the curtain rises on the world's biggest film market at Cannes, festival organisers say the recession-hit film industry looks set slide out of the doldrums.

"There are signs of a timid recovery," festival director Thierry Fremaux told AFP. "Cannes will probably reflect that."

With some 10,000 business types and 400 companies from 97 countries in town for the Cannes Market May 13 to May 22, held on the sidelines of the festival, the market is the globe's top movie business-place - with wheeling and dealing for rights to some 4,000 movies, either finished or in the planning stage.

Market director Jerome Paillard, who has run the sector for 14 years, said that days before the start of business, registrations were up six per cent from belt-tightening 2009.

"Everyone is watching very closely how things go this year," he told AFP. "Professionals are showing optimism once again but we will see whether this translates into hard fact."

Favourable currency exchange rates, he added, had helped buoy the US presence this year after a difficult edition, thanks to the financial crisis.

Some 16 percent of buyers and sellers are from the United States, with around the same numbers from Asia and 62 percent from Europe.

The number of producers signed up to attend has risen 10 percent to 2,000.

"You can tell that people have more visibility and more readiness to project into the future," he added. "And both distributors and television networks need to buy films after having had to survive on stocks for a year, which is encouraging."

Paillard said however that while a number of countries were back on the buyers' market, offers were pegged to price levels seen two to three years back.

"This is a lasting trend that the market will have to take into account," he said.

With 2,000-odd completed films up for sale this year, the Market offers 33 cinemas located in the central festival building famed for its red-carpeted steps, as well as in luxury hotels on the palm-fringed Croisette seaside walk and in city cinemas.

Ten of the cinemas have been equipped for 3-D screenings, increasingly popular since James Cameron's blockbuster "Avatar" netted record ticket sales of 2.7 billion dollars.

"3-D productions are spreading everywhere, they're not just being made in Hollywood but also in Europe and Asia," Paillard said.

"Today people are wondering whether 3-D will spread beyond action movies and genre films to more intimate arthouse fare."