"Paramount Commits to "Suicides," Pic Kills At Cannes; Distribs Circle Smith's "Dogma"
by Anthony Kaufman
As the race for the Camera d'Or (best first film) heated up, the domestic acquisitions game picked up some steam as well, with Sofia Coppola's "The Virgin Suicides" getting snapped up. IndieWIRE has learned that the film was picked up on Thursday by Paramount Classics, which beat out Trimark in nabbing the debut film. Coppola jumped into the pole position for the Camera d'Or with a surprisingly assured debut, smartly directed with restraint, nuanced performances, and a strong narrative. Adapted from the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, the story follows the five beautiful Lisbon sisters who killed themselves in the suburb of Grosse Point, Michigan as narrated by the boys who adored them. Slyly shifting between dark humor and haunting tragedy, Coppola's debut is thoroughly engrossing as well; and what faults there are -- some script elements -- are forgiven quickly. Destined for a healthy distribution run, "Virgin Suicides" will undoubtedly launch Coppola's career as a director, d'Or or not.
This isn't Coppola's first trip to Cannes; she came to the festival when she was 8 years-old with her father's feature "Apocalypse Now." "I remember it being a big deal, but it's more exciting coming back with my own movie," says the younger Coppola." I always thought about it as the ultimate place to show our movie. I was scared. Everyone was saying 'you're crazy going to Cannes, they're going to attack you.' I just said, 'I finished it, I worked hard and I want to show it' -- and of course, it's an honor to be in the Director's Fortnight."
When asked about the expectations surrounding her debut as the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, the 27-year-old director said, "What can I do? I can't stay at home and do nothing....I felt like I had to try harder not to be just some kid of some great filmmaker. So it was motivating." Coppola admitted she had a strong support group to help her make her first film. "That was one of the fortunate things about coming from a film family with my dad," she said, "that I knew how to find great people to work with." Her cinematographer Edward Lachman had won Independent Spirit Awards for his work on "True Stories" and "Light Sleeper" while her editor had worked on all of Todd Haynes' features and her producers included her dad, American Zoetrope's Julie Costanzo, Muse Productions' Chris Hanley ("Tree's Lounge"), and Illusion Entertainment's Dan Halstead ("The Corruptor").
Another first film poised for the prize is Benoit Mariage's "The Carriers are Waiting," reported in Wednesday's indieWIRE as heading for a domestic deal; and Thursday's Variety confirmed the sale. Samuel Goldwyn Films acquired the wacky black and white comedy about a reporter striving to make it in the record books and will release the film next March, according to the trade. The other widely popular first film is Jasmin Dizdar's Yugoslavs in London comedy "Beautiful People" and though no domestic sale has been confirmed, the film has sold in virtually every foreign territory.
In other Cannes-based acquisition news, Lions Gate Entertainment has picked up all North American rights to Errol Morris' Sundance premiere, "Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr." The announcement was made in Cannes on Wednesday by Tom Ortenberg and Mark Urman, co-presidents of Lions Gate's film releasing division.
There was a little tension in the air on Wednesday night at the "The Blair Witch Project" party where Artisan execs played it cool about acquisitions while receiving congratulations after the screening. At the same time there was talk over whether to pass on Jim Jarmusch's "Ghost Dog" and whether to pick up Kevin Smith's "Dogma" from Miramax before someone else does. They are, of course, not the only company vying for the new film from the director of "Clerks" and "Chasing Amy" which screens to the public in a late night 12:15 am screening slot tonight. While a top exec at one studio flew to New York for last week's screening (see indieWIRE May 17), and other distribs, including another LA-based studio, have also shown interest in the Ben Affleck, Matt Damon-starrer, claimed one Cannes source. The press will get a chance to see if the "comic fantasia" lives up to all the hype in a special industry screening this morning (Friday) at 11 a.m.
With the weekend swiftly approaching, biz players are in a race to close deals before the festival finishes and the publicity factor of Cannes '99 wears off. There are surely acquisitions in the air -- you can see it in the nervous faces of the lawyers and distrib execs -- but as far as indieWIRE knows, most of those purchases will take some time, finalizing in the weeks after the festival. A representative from Trimark has confirmed that they are indeed not picking up "A Texas Funeral" from J & M Entertainment, as was speculated in yesterday's indieWIRE and Artisan's Jeremy Barber confirmed yesterday that they have not purchased any films yet. Cannes '99 may be remembered as one of the slowest years for acquisitions, certainly from the Official Selection.
Regarding the awards ceremony on Sunday night, there appears no definitive front-runners for the top prize -- the Palme d'Or. Of interest, recent screened films like "Ghost Dog" have split the critics (though Jarmusch's film has had positive word of mouth despite mixed reviews and promises to do very well overseas) and Kitano's latest "Kikujiro " doesn't have the power to be a contender. Best Actor nods have been connected to Bob Hoskins' performance in "Felicia's Journey," the women of Almodovar's "All About My Mother" all look poised for Actress awards, and Best Director is anybody's guess.