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February 10, 2006 11:30 AM
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DAILY DISPATCH FROM BERLIN: 'Snow Business'; Panorama Plans; "Quinceanera," "Promise," "Boys," "Home

On a snowy opening day in Berlin, the 2006 Berlinale gets underway. Photo by indieWIRE

"There's no business like snow business," quipped Berlinale festival director Dieter Kosslick, opening his fifth festival as the head of the rejuvenated event. Indeed, snow was the theme Thursday in Berlin -- on screen and off -- as the festival opened with Marc Evans' "Snow Cake," while outside the latest in an already long winter of storms arrived to greet the debut of the 2006 Berlin International Film Festival (wet, slushy precipitation is expected to persist during the first days of the typically chilly, but usually snow-free fest).

Get the latest news, buzz and iPOP photos from the Berlinale in indieWIRE's special Berlin International Film Festival section.

Starting Off With "Snow"

Under grey skies and with more snow set to greet the start of the Berlinale, the event's head, the often joking Kosslick remarked that the ten-day event's opening night film, "Snow Cake" (from Canada) was an appropriate opener. The film stars Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver in a story about a middle-aged man (Rickman) who is en route to meet the mother of his deceased son.

Along the way he picks up a gregarious hitchhiker who is on her way home. Tragedy occurs, however, when they have an auto accident, killing the girl, prompting Rickman's character, still in shock, to find the girl's mother to give her the news in person. After finding her mother (Weaver), the man realizes she is a person living with autism, and not able to convey any emotion. The man decides to stay with the autistic woman until the funeral is over, and the story becomes more complex after he meets her lively neighbor and embarks on an affair. However, the neighbor's pursuer, a local police officer, is naturally not amused by the new arrival in town and soon finds a dark secret in his past.

Evans, Weaver, Rickman and other members of the production joined a very crowded room of journalists for a press conference Thursday afternoon at the Grand Hyatt in Berlin's Potsdamer Platz amid a torrent of cameras and a shortage of chairs for the Berlinale press. Initial questions turned to a radiant looking Weaver, asked why she took the role. She said, "One of the reasons I wanted to do the movie was because it's about an interesting woman who happens to have autism." Weaver went on to say about her character that research on autism was difficult because there is no uniformity to the condition and not simply a matter of portraying a certain behavior. "[It was] one of the more interesting roles I've researched. Every person I met on the 'spectrum of autism' is completely unique."

Writer Angela Pell explained that her son is autistic when asked by a journalist Thursday. "This whole movie came about from my son Johnny," Pell responded. Evans chimed in that the story is "lovely and redemptive," while Rickman said, "I don't find the movie that sad really..." Rickman later added about the condition, "You realize that the spectrum of autism is there... [even] with everyone in this room. I found myself arranging pencils on my desk..."

Although some at the press conference gushed about the film, others had a decidedly mixed reaction at the festival's sumptuous opening night party in the Berlinale Palast later Thursday night. Nevertheless, the celebration was lively with at least two thousand people crowding into the large multi-tiered venue, feasting on stalls of food prepared by emerging German chefs.

Panorama Turns 21

A twenty-five year Berlinale veteran, Panorama section head Weiland Speck leads the 21 year-old section that is almost an entire festival in and of itself. This year it is offering nearly 75 films from 33 countries, of which there are 31 world premieres this year. In fact, if there is a truly populist section of the festival, it is Panorama, which each year draws big crowds to local Berlin movie theaters and the section is the only one in Berlin to include an audience prize.

At his Berlinale festival office, Panorama section head Weiland Speck. Photo by Brian Brooks/indieWIRE

While the Berlin International Film Festival was officially opening for VIPs and sponsors with a gala screening Thursday night over at the Berlinale Palast, the Panorama section kicked off at the Cinemaxx theater in Potsdamer Platz. Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's "Brothers Of The Head," just acquired for U.S. distribution by IFC Films, kicked off Panorama. It is the provocative story of a pair of punk rock Siamese twins who jointly front a band in the 1970s. Fulton and Pepe are back in Panorama after screening their doc "Lost in La Mancha" in Berlin back in 2003.

Music is a common thread in the Panorama section this year, Speck explained during a chat with indieWIRE in his office earlier in the day Thursday. In the case of "Brothers," the film also explores another important theme found in Panorama titles, "the ambiguity of identity of young people," Speck observed, noting the fluidity of punk rock identity.

The fluid identity of his own section is a key strength of the Panorama, which offers (as its name suggests) a wide view, including a range of perspectives. The section is also known as an important launching pad for queer cinema and is this year celebrating the 20th anniversary of The Teddy Award, the only gay prize presented by a major international festival.

Aside from niche interests, Speck also explained Thursday that he is aware of the growing interest in his section among buyers, so he tries to serve a variety of audiences: Berliners, buyers, programmers and critics. "I try to find films that work with the Berlin audience, and from that point I try to convince the buyers," he smiled. "Without the Berlin audience's support, I don't think I can elevate a film to success -- they basically have the say more than that market."

The challenge for '06, Speck explained, is to reckon with a much larger European Film Market here in Berlin, one that is expected to draw new German Chancellor Angela Merkel today to the expanded EFM site at Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin.

"The program sets the tone for the festival and the market," reiterated Speck, but wondering how more buyers might figure into the mix, added, "This year will be a big lesson for us."

Celluloid Dreams Goes For "Quinceanera"

Over at the European Film Market, sales company Celluloid Dreams announced its acquisition of international rights to Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer's "Quinceanera," the acclaimed U.S. indie film that won both the grand jury prize and the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival last month.

Last year, Celluloid Dreams handled the Sundance grand jury prizewinner Ira Sach's 40 Shades of Blue" and Miranda July's "Me and You and Everyone We Know." Charlotte Mickie of Celluloid brokered the deal for international rights with Cinetic Media.

Warner Independent Takes "Promise"

Chen Kaige's "The Promise" (Wuji), having its European festival premiere here in Berlin, has been acquired for U.S. distribution by Warner Independent Pictures, the company confirmed overnight. The deal marks the latest development for a film that has already had a storied life. Back in Cannes, The Weinstein Company announced the acquisition of the movie, they then re-edited it and named it "Master of the Crimson Armor" (it was titled "The Promise" when released in longer form in China).

According to reports last year, the longer version of the film was submitted for Oscar consideration, while the shorter version was nominated for a Golden Globe as best foreign language film. Considered China's biggest budget film, and one of its largest grossers, the film stars Hiroyuki Sanada, Jang Dong-Kun, Cecilia Cheung, Nicholas Tse, Chen Hong and Liu Ye.

Here! Gets "Cut Sleeve Boys"

Here! Films has announced its acquisition of North American rights to Ray Yeung's "Cut Sleeve Boys," announcing the deal on the first day of the European Film Market where the film is screening this week. The company brokered the pact with Fortissimo Films.

"Cut Sleeve," set in an underground drag club scene, involves a Miss Pacific Rim Beauty Pageant and looking, according to an announcement, "unblinkingly, and with great humour, at a host of quirky characters that inhabit this makeover of the British Chinese gay experience."

A theatrical release from Here! Films, in association with Regent Releasing, is set for Fall 2006. Yeung's credits include the short films "A Bridge to the Past" and "Yellow Fever." He produced the film with Chowee Leow. "Cut Sleeve Boys" will screen at the upcoming Bangkok Film Festival this month and the Hong Kong Film Festival in April.

Sundance Channel Goes for "Home"

Days before the world premiere of Amos Gitai's "News From Home/News From House," Sundance Channel has announced its acquisition of U.S. pay TV rights to the doc (which they co-financed). It will debut on the network next year as part of a retrospective of the filmmaker's work, including the first two parts of the "House" trilogy: "House" (1980) and "A House in Jerusalem" (1998).

The film documents the lives surrounding a three-story home in West Jerusalem. Gitai produced the movie with Michael Tauauch, Laurent Truchot and Patrice Quinet for Agav Films, in association with ARTE (France/Allemagne), Artemis (Belgique), Agat (France), Sundance Channel (USA), RAI 3 (Italy), RTBF (Belgique), YLE (Finland), Hamon (Israel), The New Fund for Israeli Cinema (Israel), Second Channel (Israel) and CNC (France).

Fortissimo Goes For "Fabulous"

Worldwide sales rights (outside the U.S.) for the new Independent Film Channel documentary "Fabulous! The Story Of Queer Cinema" -- premiering February 12th -- have been acquired by Fortissimo Films, the company announced today. Lisa Ades and Lesli Klainberg directed the film, which looks at queer films from the '40s through the New Queer Cinema movement of the '90s, to today's gay & lesbian films.

Sony Launches "Capote" Overseas

Among the American films screening out of competition here in Berlin is Bennett Miller's Oscar-nominated "Capote." As with the upcoming studio screening of "Syriana" at the festival, Sony Pictures Releasing International will utilize the Berlinale as a springboard for the film's international release. Academy Award nominees Bennett Miller (best director), Philip Seymour Hoffman (best actor) and Catherine Keener (best supporting actress) will be in Berlin for the launch, before heading to London. The film will screen at the fest on February 17th and open in theaters the next day in Italy, Switzerland, Poland, and New Zealand, and then the following week in the U.K., Australia, Spain, Brazil, Finland, and Sweden. It will open in Germany on March 2nd and in France on March 8th.

Get the latest news, buzz and iPOP photos from the Berlinale in indieWIRE's special Berlin International Film Festival section.

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