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Will 3-D make them stand out?

The Cannes Film Festival has no shortage of big-budget 3-D spectacles: It opened with Pixar’s 3-D animated film “Up,” and Disney on Monday showed footage from its upcoming 3-D holiday movie “A Christmas Carol,” while fake snow decorated the landmark Carlton Hotel in the 80-degree Cannes weather.

But the immersive technology also is attracting a growing crowd of independent filmmakers, some of whom are making -- and trying to sell -- 3-D movies on a fraction of Pixar’s and Disney’s budgets. They are convinced that the stereoscopic effect can help separate their films in a cluttered marketplace and drive moviegoers into theaters.

In a tiny booth not far from where the “Up” filmmakers walked the Cannes red carpet, 34-year-old Pavel Nikolajev was trying to drum up interest in “Duel 3D,” an action-fantasy film that the writer-director made for less than $100,000 in North Carolina.

A distributor from Turkey was watching scenes from the film on a 3-D-capable TV as Nikolajev, who was born in Kyrgyzstan and holds a master’s degree in information technology, tried to drum up business.

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“Everybody is shooting digital movies these days,” Nikolajev said after the distributor, who seemed interested but signed no contract, left. “It’s not that 2-D is boring. But it’s not that interesting anymore.”

Asked how sales were proceeding, the filmmaker said, “I’ve got a lot of interest from all over the world. Just not from the United States yet. But because it’s not a million-dollar production, I don’t have to sell it for a lot.”

Of the 4,500 movies being sold and 900 films being shown in the sales convention that runs parallel to the film festival here, there are more than a dozen new 3-D films, some of them completed and others just screenplays looking for underwriting.

“Duel 3D” is almost certainly the cheapest of the bunch. Several others are far more ambitious. The already filmed “Oceans 3D: Into the Deep” cost $14.5 million to make; and “Station 21: 3D,” scheduled to go into production next year, is budgeted at $45 million.

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The films’ producers and sales agents hope that the strong box-office receipts for recent 3-D movies such as “Monsters vs. Aliens” will improve their chances for sale.

In some international territories, the same film can do five times as much business in 3-D theaters as 2-D screens. Pixar Animation Studios, DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. and Walt Disney Co. have made a commitment to produce an array of 3-D titles in the coming years. Lionsgate is now developing a number of 3-D movies, convinced that the success of its “My Bloody Valentine” means 3-D horror, action and even sex-comedy titles can profit from the format.

Several sellers at Cannes said they were hopeful that director James Cameron’s 3-D movie “Avatar,” which debuts Dec. 19, would open the floodgates for 3-D exhibition and distribution.

In a booth just a little bit fancier than Nikolajev’s, Isabel Pons was trying to catch buyers’ eyes with large posters for “Magic Journey to Africa 3D,” a $15-million family adventure and fantasy movie from Orbita Max, the same Spanish producers that made the documentary “Mystery of the Nile.”

Pons acknowledged that there’s a potential obstacle to 3-D theatrical distribution: There aren’t enough theaters equipped to show such movies.

“We have about 100 3-D screens in Spain,” Max said. “But every week, we are adding more screens.”

A shorter, documentary version of “Magic Journey” will be created to be shown in Imax theaters, most of which can show 3-D movies.

Some of these 3-D movies may never make it into wide release in U.S. theaters. The Latin American division of 20th Century Fox produced “The Happy Cricket and the Gigantic Insects,” a 3-D animated sequel to “The Happy Cricket,” a 2001 Brazilian film (“O Grilo Feliz”) that was released in the U.S. on DVD in 2006.

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“That movie was a blockbuster in Russia,” said Helder Dacosta, whose Tropicalstorm Entertainment is in Cannes selling its 3-D sequel. He said the movie has been sold during the film festival to distributors in Turkey, Poland, Germany and Russia.

One of the most elaborate of the independently financed 3-D movies is the Australian production “Station 21: 3D,” a futuristic thriller. The film has at its center a holographic character who should benefit from 3-D viewing.

“It will look a little bit better than the hologram of Princess Leia in the first ‘Star Wars’ movie,” said producer Laura Sivis, who has not yet started filming the movie and is trying to generate buyer interest from test footage.

“Three years ago, when we talked about making a 3-D movie, people just rolled their eyes at us. They thought 3-D would be a passing phase.”

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john.horn@latimes.com


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