This time last year, Steve Bannon, now President Trump's chief strategist, was pacing in a suite in the Majestic hotel in Cannes, looking just like any other schlubby producer hoping to land a distribution deal. With his hands stuffed in the pockets of his cargo pants, Bannon talked a mile a minute with a THR reporter about the two films he'd brought to the market to screen: Torchbearer, a fire-and-brimstone documentary featuring Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson railing against godless America, and Clinton Cash, an exposé on then-presumed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. "I said, 'We have a real horror film here,' " Bannon eagerly described the Clinton film to THR. " 'So let's make it look like a horror movie, with all the techniques and imagery and the interstitials with blood on the globe and all that …' "
Bannon's two screenings apparently did not draw much of a crowd. "Virtually no buyers attended," recalls one acquisition executive. "It was total amateur hour."
In fact, the man who was about to become one of the most powerful people on the planet — he'd be hired as Trump's top campaign adviser in August and then, after the election, as White House chief strategist — made virtually no impression when he visited Cannes in May 2016. He was just another of the hundreds of faceless producers who schlepped to the Marche du Film with reels under their arms — though in Bannon's case, he didn't even have a stand in the Pavilion. "Wow, I totally forgot he was at Cannes last year," says one buyer when reminded, repeating what turns out to be a common refrain of attendees.
Arc Entertainment/Everett CollectionTorchbearer
Not surprisingly, neither of Bannon's movies ended up finding theatrical distributors (though he did eventually sell TV rights in Germany, Benelux and Japan and VOD rights in the U.S.).
Still, before he was given an office at the White House, Bannon actually was pretty well positioned to become a successful B- or maybe C-grade producer — the Roger Corman of right-wing documentaries — despite last year's amateurish screenings...