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December 18, 2001 2:00 AM
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DAILY NEWS: AFI Awards; Palm Springs Fest; and Majidi's Next Miramax Film; Mogul Diller Atop Two Spe

DAILY NEWS: AFI Awards; Palm Springs Fest; and Majidi's Next Miramax Film; Mogul Diller Atop Two Specialty Film Companies



with articles by Eugene Hernandez, Anthony Kaufman and Brian
Brooks/indieWIRE



>> American Film Institute Announces Nominees for First AFI Awards


(indieWIRE: 12.18.01) -- The American Film Institute is joining the awards
season fray. Next month it will hit network television with the first AFI
Awards
, to be held on January 5th at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The
organization will give 19 awards in film and television categories --
nominees were chosen by two 13-member committees,


Chosen for the top prize -- AFI Movie of the Year -- are 10 films: "A
Beautiful Mind
" (Universal/DreamWorks), "Black Hawk Down" (Columbia), "In the Bedroom" (Miramax), "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" (New Line), "The Man Who Wasn't There" (USA Films), "Memento" (Newmarket), "Monster's Ball" (Lions Gate), "Moulin Rouge" (Twentieth Century Fox),
"Mulholland Drive" (Universal Focus), "Shrek" (DreamWorks).


There were a handful of independent and specialty releases nominated
in other categories. Notably, the best actress category pits Halle Berry
("Monster's Ball"), Stockard Channing ("The Business of Strangers"), and
Sissy Spacek ("In the Bedroom"), against Naomi Watts ("Mulholland Drive"). Billy Bob Thornton ("The Man Who Wasn't There") and Tom Wilkinson ("In the Bedroom") are among those in the best actor category.


Nominated for AFI Director of the Year are Robert Altman ("Gosford Park"), Todd Field ("In The Bedroom"), David Lynch ("Mulholland Drive"), and Ridley Scott ("Black Hawk Down"). While in the AFI Screenwriter of the Year
category, the nominees are Rob Festinger and Todd Field ("In the Bedroom"),
Christopher Nolan ("Memento"), Akiva Goldsman ("A Beautiful Mind") and
Daniel Clowes & Terry Zwigoff ("Ghost World").


The AFI Awards will also showcase excellence in cinemtography, editing,
production design, digital effects and musical composition. [Eugene
Hernandez]


[A complete list of nominees is available on the AFI website:
http://www.afionline.org.]



>> Foreign Oscar Contenders and 10 World Premieres on Hand for Palm Springs Film Festival


(indieWIRE/12.18.01) -- One hundred and fifty films including fifty U.S.
premieres and ten world premieres are among the highlights announced late
last week for the upcoming Palm Springs International Film Festival. Also
planned are screenings of 43 of the 51 films submitted from around the world
for consideration in the Oscar Best Foreign Language Film category.


Opening the fest on January 10th is the romantic comedy, "The Monsoon
Wedding
," by director Mira Nair ("Salaam Bombay," "Mississippi Masala"). A festival release described the film as a story of the "secrets that are
revealed at a big family wedding set against the back drop of looming monsoon
rains."


Commenting on this year's event in a prepared statement, the festival's
program director Jennifer Stark stated, "We wanted this year's festival to
be a strong blend of different types of film. While we were conscious of
picking films with a strong social relevance, we also strove to include films
that were uplifting..." The 13th annual event will run through January 21st
in the Southern California desert resort community. [Brian Brooks]


[For more information, visit:
http://www.psfilmfest.org.]


>> Miramax Buys into Majidi's "Hope"


(indieWIRE/12.18.01) -- Miramax Films has acquired "The Color of Hope," a
new documentary by Iranian master Majid Majidi ("Children of Heaven," "Color of Paradise"). It acquired rights in all territories, barring certain rights
in Japan and Iran. Filmed in Afghanistan in November of this year, "The
Color of Hope" looks at two International Red Cross camps, one hosted by the
Taliban, the other by the Northern Alliance, and the plight of Afghan
refugee children there. In a prepared statement, Majidi said that the film
is dedicated to all homeless children "who have no shelter in this world but
who display in their worried eyes a deep hope for life."


"As soon as we heard about Majid Majidi's important project, we offered him
our full support," commented Miramax's Harvey Weinstein in a statement. "Mr.
Majidi has the unique ability to record humanity and tell stories from a
child's perspective." Miramax currently has Majidi's latest fiction feature
"Baran" in limited release, which opened in New York and Los Angeles for a
one-week Oscar qualifying run last week. The company also distributed
Majidi's "Children of Heaven," which was nominated for the Best Foreign
Language Film Oscar in 1998. [Anthony Kaufman]


>> Back to the Future at Universal as Vivendi buys Diller's USA


(indieWIRE: 12.18.01) -- Yesterday's $10 billion-plus deal between Vivendi
Universal
and Barry Diller's USA Networks effectively puts the USA Films specialty division back in the hands of Universal. The tangled history,
played out over the past four years, takes things back to the time
when Universal nabbed October Films back in 1997. This time though, Diller
is at the helm. USA Films is just a small part of the new entertainment
concern that will be headed by the mogul.


In 1997, Universal Studios owner Seagram Co. (and its chief Edgar Bronfman) sold TV assets to Diller's USA. And in the Fall of that year, Universal
Studios acquired 51% of indie outlet October Films. The following Summer,
the studio decided to drop Todd Solondz' "Happiness" and so began a
tumultuous period for the specialty division and its staff. Co-founder
Bingham Ray left the company the following year and Universal's Edgar
Bronfman sold October Films, Gramercy Pictures and Polygram assets to Barry Diller's USA Networks. The move resulted in the formation of USA Films.


Last year, the former French utility company Vivendi made a deal with
Seagram to create Vivendi Universal. Edgar Bronfman maintained a
high-profile post in the company and Vivendi Universal maintained its
significant stake in USA Networks; it also created the Universal Focus
specialty division.


Yesterday's deal creates a new entertainment subsidiary, Vivendi Universal
Entertainment
, to be headed by Barry Diller who will work for no salary, but
owns more than 1% of the entity. He will also continue to run the renamed
USA Interactive, the company that holds the unsold assets of the former USA
Networks, including Ticketmaster and the Home Shopping Network. The former Paramount Studios chief is running the show and has regained his
mogul title.


Back in Cannes earlier this year, the two specialty film companies that
Diller now runs shared a top prize: Joel Coen brought home best director
honors for USA Films' "The Man Who Wasn't There," tying with David Lynch who
received the same prize for Universal Focus' "Mulholland Drive." As awards
season heats up, Barry Diller is presiding over two separate Indiewood
companies that are battling each other for Oscar-season acclaim. [Eugene
Hernandez]

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