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May 20, 2008 3:59 AM
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CANNES '08 BIZ DAILY | Spike Lee's "Miracle," Young Europeans, Cyrte Buy, Fortissimo and John Woo, a

Filmmaker Spike Lee at a press conference in Cannes earlier today to discuss his latest film, "Miracle at St. Anna." Photo by Brian Brooks/indieWIRE.

Continuing coverage of the Marche du Film in Cannes, indieWIRE reports on the latest deals and news from the Croisette. Tuesday saw Spike Lee discussing his latest film, "Miracle at St. Anna," Zentropa announcing their "Young Europeans" project, Holland's Cyrte and their new worldwide label, Fortissmo's plans for a new John Woo film, and more.

Spike Lee Talks Up His Latest "Miracle at St. Anna"; Teases Upcoming Michael Jordan Project

Director Spike Lee hit the Croisette Tuesday unveiling his latest project, "Miracle at St. Anna," based on a screenplay by Jajes McBride, the author of the novel of the same name. The feature chronicles the story of four African-American soldiers who are members of the U.S. Army's all-black 92nd "Buffalo Soldier" division that fought against the fascists and Nazis during World War II. Lee is in Cannes to sell international rights to the film, which Touchstone will release in the United States.

"It's faithful to historic fact, but a large part of the film is about faith and miracles," said Lee about the film. "It's a miracle this film was ever made and it's a miracle that I'm a filmmaker." Lee, who describes "Miracle at St. Anna" as an "Italian film" - 95% of the crew were Italian and most of the movie was shot in Tuscany and Rome - lamented the Hollywood process, saying he had to go outside the studios to get the movie filmed. "It was like dangling a carrot in front of a horse. My film 'Inside Man' made $300 million and I thought it would be easier to get money for my next film [laughs], but that didn't happen... So I was discouraged with the Hollywood system, and decided to go to Italy." He was then able to get financing for the $40 million project.

Lee added, "There will be subtitles. We won't have Nazis speaking English, and Italians will be speaking Italian." Asked if the film touches on the subject of the mistreatment of African-Americans in the U.S. military during WWII, Lee said the film is not primarily focused on troop segregation, but does broach the topic.

Lee wore an Obama '08 T-shirt to the press conference and was asked to comment about it, but he quickly interrupted saying he wanted to remain focused on the topic of the film. Later, however, he chimed in on the upcoming American Presidential election. "I haven't been able to even imagine that a black man could be President. It is a monumental moment of history... I'm only four generations removed from slavery."

Lee will return to the United States for his next project, which he quickly mentioned as the discussion was concluding in Cannes. "Here's a scoop for you, I'm doing a feature-length documentary on Michael Jordan. And I'll be back next year [with it] in Cannes if we get in. And even if we don't, I'll screen it anyway..." [Brian Brooks/indieWIRE]


Zentropa Brings "Young Europeans" Project To Cannes

A diverse group of producers are at Cannes promoting the launch of the "Young Europeans" project, a new series of feature films made by young directors with a nationality or background from the country in which they live. The initiative, which was detailed this morning in Cannes, is aimed at exploring the outsider's view on a country's culture.

"It is a clear, fantastic European project," said Ib Tarini, one of the three producers that created the initiative. "It's about culture of diversity and how everyone fits together." Tardini, who works with Danish film company Zentropa, as well as his colleagues, Marie Gade and Mikael Olsen, secured the interest of eight countries willing to participate in the project. They include Denmark, Hungary, Ireland, The Netherlands, France, Germany, Poland and the UK.

At a press event today, Zentropa detailed the project's goals as threefold: "To raise awareness and encourage intercultural dialogue within the European union; develop young European talent within the different aspects of the audiovisual industry; and, to explore new ways of multilateral co-productions on a structural basis."

Tardini joked that some of those involved are not exactly "young." "You see a group of old people," he laughed. "We're not the 'young europeans' but we want to try and help young europeans and find new talent, as well as new ways to co-produce."

Here in Cannes, the group is trying to secure funding. "We are trying to have meetings with European Union commissions to find money from them," said Tardini. "But it's very difficult." The plan is for a third of the cost to come from commissions, and the other two thirds raised by each individual country. Each film will cost 1.5 million euros, and the rights will be divided between the countries, meaning that participants hand over the rights to the film which they have produced to a joint-venture consisting of all the participants. Tardin said he hoped to begin releasing the films at the end of next year. [Peter Knegt]


Holland's Cyrte Buys LA-based Spitfire for Planned Worldwide Entertainment Label, HS Media

Dutch media group Cyrte Investments has acquired Nigel Sinclair and Guy East's Los Angeles-based production company, Spitfire Pictures in partnership with Goldman Sachs and Mediaset. Cyrte will combine Spitfire with British studio Hammer, which Cyrte already has a stake, to form a base for creating a planned global filmed entertainment group dubbed HS Media, Cyrte chairman Frank Botman announced from Cannes Tuesday.

According to the company, both Spitfire and Hammer will operate as one business with two separate labels. Sinclair, East and Hammer studio's Simon Oakes will oversee HS Media with Sinclair and Oakes serving as co-chairman and co-CEOs out of their home bases in Los Angeles and London respectively. East will also be president and chairman of the executive board and of the sales and distribution operations. Hammer's Marc Schipper was named COO of the new entity, and Andy Mayson has joined as CFO and MD of international sales and distribution.

HS Media will initially have shareholders equity and facilities of over $100 million for development and production purposes and will establish a foreign sales division in addition to a vertically integrated distribution operation. Cyrte will also provide what it describes as "substantial equity" for HS Media to acquire libraries and complimentary businesses. Both Hammer and Spitfire have a combined 300 titles in their current libraries.

The new group plans to produce six to eight films per year initially, and will acquire an unspecified number of other films for worldwide distribution. HS Media will also develop projects for television and discussions are already underway with what it calls "high profile partners" including BBC.

"Guy and I are thankful for the opportunity to work with Frank Botman and the Cyrte team and merge our company with our good friend Simon Oakes and Hammer Films," commented Nigel Sinclair in a statement. "This is a really interesting time in the history of our business with digital convergence continuing to expand, and we believe that a talent-based strong content business is the right way to make it in this new world." Spitfire plans an early 2009 release of its new thriller, "Possession," starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. [Brian Brooks]


Fortissimo Announces Production of John Woo's "1949"

It was announced on Tuesday that Fortissimo Films have acquired worldwide rights, (excluding China) for John Woo's next project "1949." Woo and his frequent producing partner and chief of Lion Rock, Terence Chang will team up again for the projected period piece, marking Fortissimo's second collaboration with Lion Rock. Set to star two big names in Asian cinema, Seong Hye Gyo ("Fetish," "Hwang-Jin Yi," "Parang Juuibo") and Chang Chen ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Happy Together"), the film is currently in casting finalizations. The story is based on an original script by Wong Hui Ling ("Lust, Caution," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), and is set in the final years of the Second World War and follows a love story through 1949, the year of the formation of the People's Republic of China.

"It is a privilege to be working with such legendary filmmakers as John Woo and Terence Chang on '1949,' especially on this extraordinary and important film. We are honored and excited to be involved with a project of this pedigree that is guaranteed to move people as it realistically portrays the realities of the history of the Chinese people and nation in the years following the end of World War II," said Wouter Barendrecht, Fortissimo Co-Chair, in a statement. The Chinese language film is set to begin shooting on location in Taiwan and China by the end of 2008, aiming for a theatrical release occurring on the same year as the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China. [Jenny Sung]

"Ocean Flame" Katapults Into Theatres

The Un Certain Regard title, "Ocean Flame," has been acquired for international rights (except for Southeast Asia) by Katapult film Sales. Winner of the best film and best director award at Tribeca in 2004 for "Green Hat," Liu Fendou is the director of this Hong Kong film. Katapult's David Jourdan said in a statement, "I'm a big fan of 'Green Hat' so I was thrilled when Katapult had the unique opportunity to work on such a brilliant film. Liu's stylized and intense direction will resonate with audiences." Described as a film about a blackmailer and a waitress who lose their souls in their relationship, "Ocean Flame" will screen this Thursday in Salle Debussy. [Jenny Sung]


IFC Makes "PVC-1" Pact

Spiros Stathoulopoulos's thriller "PVC-1," from last year's Director's Fortnight section at last year's Cannes Film Festival, is the latest acquisition announced by IFC Entertainment here in Cannes. The title is set for the company's direct to VOD platform, Festival Direct. The film, told with one long take, stars Merida Urquia, Daniel Paez and Alberto Zornoza in the story of, "a rural Colombian mother who is turned into a human time bomb in a bizarre act of terrorism after common criminals secure a home-made collar bomb made of PVC piping to her neck." [Eugene Hernandez]


TLA Takes Five: "Gutterballs," "Man, Woman," Chef," Clandestinos," "Dragon"

TLA Releasing has announced its acquisition of Japanese erotic thriller "Man, Woman, and the Wall" and the Canadian horror comedy "Gutterballs." The movies will be released by their Ricochet and Danger After Dark labels of TLA, respectively. "Man" details the relationship between two neighbors separated by a paper-thin wall where delusions and reality collides, while "Gutterballs" upholds the 80's slasher tradition, complete with teenagers, bowling allies and a surprising twist in the end. "Gutterballs" is the second feature film for director Ryan Nicholson, who has also worked as an FX creator on such films as "Final Destination" and "Blade: Trinity." Further acquisitions for North America and the UK announced today are the Spanish comedy "Chef's Special," the dramatic thriller "Clandestinos," and lesbian thriller "Night Dragon." [Jenny Sung]


Telepool Takes with "The Volcano"

Telepool has announced its acquisition of international rights to the second joint production between teamWorx and RTL, "The Volcano." Directed by award-winning director Uwe Janson and based on Alexander Rumelin's screenplay, the film displays the effects of the eruption of Laach Lake Volacano in the heart of Germany. "This production will certainly cause an international sensation. Everything clicks: from the absorbing story and the group of top-class actors to one of the best production teams in Germany," said Telepool's Irina Ignatiew in a statement. The cast features accomplished German actor such as Katharina Wackernagel (2008 Bavarian Film Award winner for "Side Effects"). [Jenny Sung]


BFI Takes Davies Doc For UK

On the day of its world premiere in Cannes, the British Film Institute has acquired the UK distribution rights to Terence Davies' "Of Time and the City." "City," is a documentary that details Davies' life as a Liverpudlian and the changes of British social life post-war. The film was produced by Northwest Vision and Media as part of its "Digital Departures" initiative, a competitive scheme which has supported three feature film projects for Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture. Following Cannes, the film will screen in Edinburgh this summer. BFI will release the film in the UK this November. [Peter Knegt]

MK2 Gets Busy at Cannes

MK2 has had a busy week, selling many titles, including the Critics' Week title "Rumba" to UK's Sound and Media, Benelux's Cineart, Germany and Switzerland's X Verleih, Portugal's Pantheon, Japan's Shibata Organization, Korea's Mars Ent., and Poland's Vivarto. The slapstick comedy is currently still in discussion with many other regions. Further sales by MK2 are the animated family film "The True Story of Puss 'N Boots," the thriller "Diamond," and Helmer Olivier Assays' "Summer Hours," with negotiations currently going on for "24 City," an official selection title. [Jenny Sung/indieWIRE]


IETFF Joins Forces With Macedonian Film Fund

The International Emerging Talent Film Festival (IETFF) has partnered with the Macedonian Film Fund (MFF) to launch the first International Conference of IETFF's Global Film Expression (GFF) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia this June. Established in 2006, this is the first year the government formed MFF has officially began to operate, offering funding for the nation's film industry. "This first year, funds are quite modest, but there are some serious chances it will double and I expect that this figure will grow," said MFF's Dejan Iliev in a statement. Attending the GFE reception at Cannes will be Her Excellency, Mme. Tadelech Haile-Mikael, the Ambassador to France of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, who has been key in advancing the program in African and within Monaco. [Jenny Sung/indieWIRE]

Nigerian Pavilion Faces Challenges

Their second time in the International Marketplace, the Nigerian Pavilion have their work cut out for them. One of only three African Pavilions (the others are Morocco and South Africa), Nigeria is one of the few without any films in competition or the market, and are forced to utilize their Pavilion as an opportunity to work their way up in the global marketplace. Even so, Yomi Durojaiye, Senior Programme Officer of the Nigerian Film Corporation, is both optimistic and celebratory about the country's sophomore year at Cannes. "Its lovely," Durojaiye said. "I think Nigeria should be proud of it."

"The Pavilion was established to promote the work of Nigerian filmmakers," Durojaiye said. "We treat our job as an aiding platform for indigenous practitioners. They are our colleagues. We want them to have a home. They can come here and we can entertain them and give them African hospitality." Durojaiye and his Nigerian peers don't just see their Pavilion as representing Nigeria. "We see it as pan-African," he said. "We want every African to see this as their home. We have a responsibility as one of the biggest film industries in Africa. We should be at the forefront, projecting [both] Nigerian and African films." The pavilion is also flexible with how they define someone who is Nigerian. They screened "The Immigrant" at the Pavilion, a film directed by Ike Onaoha, an American of Nigerian descent.

"Now the challenge is to take it to a new level," Durojaiye explained. "We want the people in Cannes to have a feel for Nigeria. Even though we've never been in competition, we want people to understand our culture. They can come here and ask for a film or information on production companies." "Our concern is not just winning awards," he said. "We just want to realize the potential we have. Even though we are limited, we are talented." Part of that goal comes from new developments in the Nigerian Film Corporation's overall initiatives. Established in 1992, the government agency's are try to establish a national development fund. "Currently, most [of our filmmakers] are self-sponsored. They raise money themselves, often through friends. And when you are that limited you have to reduce the risk. We want to have a fund to help assist them."

The Minister for Information and Communication in Nigeria has set up a group of committees to help move the idea along. This includes a specific committee to promote the idea of filmmaking to Nigeria's people. "We want people to see it as a profession," said Durojaiye. "We want to put the structure in place so [people] can write and direct and produce. We want to give them all it takes." The committees have submitted their reports, and Durojaiye is eager to move forward. [Peter Knegt/indieWIRE]


Get the latest from the 2008 Cannes Film Festival in indieWIRE's special section.

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