Festival Dealmaking to Bring Spate of New International Films to U.S.
by Eugene Hernandez
While today's Oscar nominations showcase the best of 2002, the Winter film festival circuit in January and February, which includes Sundance, Rotterdam and Berlin, is an important time for American independent and specialty distributors to look ahead. Buyers and execs are seizing the opportunity to add films to their roster and to take power meetings that will lead to deals at the upcoming American Film Market or in Cannes. Among the pacts that biz folks in Berlin are buzzing about lately are deals to bring a number of new international films to the United States.
"Trilogie" Nabbed for U.S. Release by Magnolia
Magnolia Pictures' Eamonn Bowles is the latest dealmaker to broker a pact in Europe. The American distributor and exhibitor closed a deal on Monday for Lucas Belvaux's French/Belgian "La Trilogie," a trio of new feature films from the actor turned director. The films hit Bowles' radar in Toronto, achieved greater attention in Rotterdam this year and Bowles sealed the pact here in Berlin. In a conversation with indieWIRE, at Monday night's crowded European Film Market party in the Berlinale Palast, Bowles discussed the acquisition.
The films in Belvaux's "Trilogie," each with a different story but all set in Grenoble, France, uses primarily the same cast while highlighting different characters in each film. In the first feature, "Un Couple Epatant" ("An Amazing Couple"), a marriage is "put under pressure by the strange behaviour of the hypochondriacal husband." The comedy is followed by "Cavale" ("On the Run"), a film noir about "an extreme-left-wing terrorist who escapes from prison and proves that dinosaurs can still cause a lot of damage." It stars the director, Belvaux. Finally in "Apres La Vie" (), the film offers a "cross-section of modern life in Grenoble," including "a loving cop (who) has for years been scoring morphine for his addicted wife."
In a unique plan, Bowles indicated that Magnolia will open the trilogy in the United States in July. Each installment will open two weeks after the previous one. Bowles added that he will look to the success that the three films had in their French release when he is mapping out a strategy for bringing the films to theaters this Summer.
In addition to Bowles, a number of key New York execs have been attending screenings and soirees here at the Berlinale and the European Film Market. Harvey Weinstein was in town over the weekend, while Michael Barker has repped Sony Pictures Classics. Others in town include Bob Berney from Newmarket, Jack Turner from United Artists, Tom Quinn from Samuel Golwdyn, John Vanco from Cowboy Pictures, David Koh, Ryan Werner and Jose Martinez from Palm Pictures, Krysanne Katsoolis and Marie Therese Guirgis from Wellspring, Sarah Lash and Kelly De Vine from IFC Films and the Independent Film Channel, and Chris Vesper and Ian Bricke from Sundance Channel and the new Sundance Film Series.
Wellspring Announces Pair of Acquisitions
New York's Wellspring announced deals for two new films on Monday. The company has acquired Bahman Ghobadi's "Marooned in Iraq" and Olivier Ducastel & Jacques Martineau's "Ma Vraie Vie a Rouen." Each film will debut theatrically this year, prior to a release on the Wellspring home video/DVD label.
Ghobadi's "Marooned" is the filmmaker's follow-up to the successful "A Time For Drunken Horses." It is described in a company announcement as "an often comic and ultimately moving road movie which follows an aging Kurdish musician and his two sons on an emotional search for the older man's lost love." It debuted at Cannes in 2002 and will open in April. The film was pinpointed for Wellspring's Krysanne Katsoolis and Marie Therese Guirgis by an Iranian film scholar, Professor Jamsheed Akrami.
In Ducastel's "Vie," the directors (known for the Wellspring release "Adventures of Felix") capture a year in the life of a teenaged boy. The film, shot from the point of view of the teenager, includes "intimate glimpses of his burgeoning sexual identity," according to the announcement. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year.
International Films Set for New Series
Sandy Mandelberger, a regular festival and film market attendee via his marketing and promotion shingle International Media Resources, is using the 2003 Berlinale to unveil a new side of his company. Mandelberger has announced plans to move into film distribution via a new film series plan. Dubbed International Film Weeks, his new initiative will be, in the words of Monday's announcement, "targeting international films for specialty theatrical, television and video/DVD release in the United States." First up is a deal to bring a package of Scandinavian films to the United States. Next up, according to Mandelberger, are packages of films from Latin America, Korea, Australia/New Zealand and the U.K.
Mandelberger told indieWIRE that his initiative will take themed groups of films to specialty theaters, film societies, college and museum film programs and regional film festivals in the United States. The films will then be sold to television and home video/DVD, according to Mandelberger.
Set for the first series, Midnight Sun: New Films from Scandinavia, are the Zentropa production "Chop Chop," the Danish drama "A Place Nearby," "Honor of the House" from Iceland, a coming-of-age drama dubbed "Swedish Beauty," the horror film "The Unknown," and "The Classic" from Finland.
"So many quality international films fall between the cracks and never find a theatrical distributor in the US," commented Mandelberger in a statement sent to indieWIRE. "By creatively packaging the films and creating public and press awareness through this specialty circuit, we are vastly increasing the commercial potential of these films in the television and video/dvd markets.
Paramount Classics Sings for "Detective"
Finally, while its not a pact for a foreign language film, Paramount Classics has closed a deal on the Winter film fest circuit. It has acquired the Sundance 2003 premiere "The Singing Detective," directed by Keith Gordon ("A Midnight Clear," "The Chocolate War"). The film, based on the 1986 TV miniseries of the same name, stars Robert Downey Jr., Mel Gibson and Robin Wright Penn and will be released in the Fall.
"Detective" is described as "the story of crime novelist Dan Dark (Downey) who, languishing in his hospital bed, occupies his time by mapping out a screenplay in his head about a cyncial private investigator who doubles as a singer in a dance band." The company nabbed North American rights, as well as rights for Latin America and Japan.
While some of the New York buyers are heading back to the United States today, dealmaking at the Berlinale and the European Film Market continues with more news expected from the U.S. contingent later in the week.