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DAILY NEWS: Cannes 2002 Winners Acquired, Focus Gets Polanski’s “Pianist,” Sony Classics Nabs Kaur

DAILY NEWS: Cannes 2002 Winners Acquired, Focus Gets Polanski's "Pianist," Sony Classics Nabs Kaur

DAILY NEWS: Cannes 2002 Winners Acquired, Focus Gets Polanski's "Pianist," Sony Classics Nabs Kaurismaki Film; Also, a Report from Festival's Closing Night

by Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE with an article by Stephen Garrett in Cannes

GET THE COMPLETE LIST of Cannes Winners at

>> CANNES 2002: Polanski’s “Pianist,” 2002 Palme d’Or Winner, Acquired by Focus

(indieWIRE: 05.28.02) — Roman Polanski‘s Cannes 2002 Palme d’Or winner “The
” has been acquired by Focus, the new specialty film distributor
formed earlier this month by Vivendi Universal‘s merging of USA Films and
Good Machine. The deal, reported in trade publications today, is Focus’
first finished film acquisition and covers the United States, as well as
Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

“The Pianist,” which was nabbed on Saturday, the day before it won the top
prize at the Cannes Festival, is being set for a December release with an
awards season push, according to the trade reports. It was described by
indieWIRE Cannes reporter Stephen Garrett as “an accomplished and
heartfelt account of the Jewish concert pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman
(played by Adren Brody) and his life in the Warsaw ghetto during World
War II.

In a sign of corporate synergy, Focus’ chiefs David Linde and James Schamus
made the deal for “The Pianist” with sibling Studio Canal, another division
in the large Vivendi Universal entertainment outfit.

Among other releases set for the new company are a slate of former USA
Films’ movies, including Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen’s Robert Evans
doc, “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” Neil LaBute’s “Possession,” and
Francois Ozon’s “8 Femmes” (8 Women). The company also has Todd Haynes’
Far From Heaven,” Neil LaBute’s “The Shape of Things,” and it made a deal
in Cannes for Pawel Pawlikowski‘s new film about Sylvia Plath, starring
Gwyneth Paltrow. [Eugene Hernandez in New York]

>> CANNES 2002: Sony Pictures Classics Busy on The Croisette; Distributor Gets Award-winning Kaurismaki Film and Russian “Cuckoo” in Final Days of Fest, Capping Numerous Other Cannes Pacts

(indieWIRE: 05.28.02) — While some specialty and indie distributors
bemoaned the lack of viable new films in Cannes, the Sony Pictures Classics
team clearly feels differently. The company was the busiest of all American
buyers on the Croisette, buying a slew of new movies in France, among them
Aki Kaurismaki‘s Cannes Grand Prize winner, “Mies Vailla Menneisyytta” (A
Man Without a Past
) and a Russian market entry, “The Cuckoo.”

“We found some really good films,” Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker
told indieWIRE on Saturday, after landing in New York, “Because there are so
many movies there, it is easy to miss them, (it is easy to be) distracted by
what look like the ‘A’ titles from the beginning.” You have to keep your
“ear to the ground,” Barker added, explaining that he and the rest of the
Sony Classics team at a fest (co-president Tom Bernard and acquisitions VP
Dylan Leiner) monitor the feedback of critics and festival directors to find
undiscovered gems.

“As you can see from the results, we didn’t go to a lot of parties this
year,” Barker joked. “Tom and I saw a minimum of 5 films per day, and in
some cases 7 or 8,” Barker added, in some cases negotiating with sales
agents to secure a late night screening of a market movie.

Finnish director Kaurismaki’s latest, a competition entry that was the
runner-up for the Palme d’Or winning the Grand Prize, was described by
indieWIRE’s Cannes reporter Stephen Garrett as a “deadpan bellylaugher about
Finnish riff-raff — a shaggy-dog story about a man with amnesia.”

Winning a top award doesn’t necessarily translate to box-office success,
Barker cautioned in the pre-awards conversation with indieWIRE. But, he
added, receiving a top honor at the festival brings important awareness when
the jury recognizes a filmmaker like Kaurismaki, widely unknown here in

As for the company’s deal for the Russian “Kushka” (The Cuckoo), directed by
Alexander Rogozhkin, Barker told indieWIRE that buzz in Cannes among
festival directors and film critics alike was positive for the Market entry.
The comedy, which brings together three people in a small hut in the
northern wilderness, is set to screen at the upcoming film festival in

Also at the Festival, Sony Classics announced deals for “Owning Mahowny,”
Richard Kwietnioski’s follow-up to “Love and Death on Long Island” starring
Philip Seymour Hoffman, as well as Emanuele Crialese’s “Respiro (Grazia’s
,” the Critic’s Week award winner with Valeria Golino. Other pacts
include Hector Babenco’s just-wrapped movie “Carandiru,” and the French hit
film, “Winged Migration” (Travelling Birds), which was out of competition in
Berlin and screened in the Cannes Market. Finally, it also announced a deal
with TF1 and Svensk Filmindustri for “Beautiful Country,” a Terrence
Malick/Ed Pressman production that will be directed by Hans Petter Moland
(“Aberdeen”) and was written by written by Sabrina Murray and Larry Gross,
from a story by Malick.

Next up for the SPC team is a review of this year’s release slate, now
populated by an array of potential new entries. “Every month, we reassess
(the slate),” Barker explained. They will monitor awards presentations and
national submissions for best foreign film Oscar consideration as they
refine the list later in the year. So far, Barker emphasized, SPC is
committed to releasing Paul Scrader’s latest, “Autofocus,” starring Greg
Kinnear, in October and Pedro Almodovar’s latest, “Hable Con Ella” (Talk to
Her) in November.

“We felt that we didn’t have to buy anything (in Cannes),” Barker summed up,
before hopping aboard another plane to spend the weekend relaxing with his
family. “I don’t think for us, for Sony Pictures Classics, it (the Festival)
looked as good on paper — usually expectations are high and then dashed.”
That clearly was not the case for Sony Classics this year. [Eugene
Hernandez in New York]

>> CANNES 2002: Polanski’s “Pianist” Tops with Cannes Jury; “Columbine,” Dardenne and Kaurismaki Films Among Others Honored

(indieWIRE: 05.28.02) — In a fitting end to this year’s competent but often
uninspired lineup of movies in the official competition, the jury of the
55th Cannes Film Festival awarded Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist” the Palme
d’Or for best film. The austere Holocaust drama, which was acquired this
weekend by Focus, is an accomplished and heartfelt account of the Jewish
concert pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman (played by Adren Brody) and his life
in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II, and Polanski’s win on Sunday
night inspired a standing ovation from the black-tie audience in the
Lumiere theater. In a graceful acceptance speech delivered in French,
Polanski thanked a number of colleagues, including his lawyer, Ian
Berlingham, who had first given him a copy of Szpilman’s autobiography
at a party for Polanski’s last film, 1999’s “The Ninth Gate.”

“It’s a great honor to represent Poland at this festival,” said the director
in a press conference after the awards ceremony. “This was a very important
film for the Poles.” Born in Paris in 1933, Polanski moved to Poland as a
child and himself survived the Krakow ghetto as well as the bombing of
Warsaw — although his mother died in a concentration camp. The director,
whose most audacious cinematic triumphs “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby”
were made over a quarter century ago and whose last film in Cannes was the
1986 out-of-competition swashbuckling clunker, “Pirates” (the last in
competition was “The Tenant” in 1976), was clearly the sentimental favorite
of the festival. “The Pianist” also signified a homecoming of sorts:
Polanski hasn’t made a film about Poles since his 1962 debut “Knife in the
Water.” As though to address critics who expected a Holocaust film with
bravura directorial flourishes along the lines of Steven Spielberg’s
“Schindler’s List,” Polanski also added somewhat defensively, “I wanted to
make a low-key, neutral sort of movie for an event that speaks for itself.”

Because the somewhat lackluster films this year didn’t inspire any fervent
reactions, the closing night ceremony was even more of a wide-open race,
with only one film — Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” — a lock to
be recognized. Indeed, the first award announced, the 55th anniversary
prize, went to “Columbine.” Generally given every five years (the festival
skipped 1997, but awarded it in 1992 and 1987), the anniversary prize is
even more apt because of the timely nature of Moore’s post-September 11
diatribe about America’s self-perpetuating culture of violence and fear. “It
was a powerful statement that the festival made by including us,” Moore said
in his acceptance speech. “We just saw on CNN that Bush landed in Paris
today, and we were hoping he would come here.” He then directed a question
to Cannes head Gilles Jacob: “Gilles, could you set up a special screening
for him?” Moore was so grateful to Cannes that he even tried to speak some
tortured high-school French, in the night’s most well-meaning but awkward

“I will not speak in French, I promise you,” joked Palestinian director Elia
after winning the third-place Jury Prize for his film “Divine
Intervention,” a painfully wry, slapstick, absurdist and ultimately damning
view of Palestinian life under the Israelis. The language-gaffe running joke
even extended to the Belgian actor Olivier Gourmet, who won Best Actor for
his role in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne‘s “Le Fils.” “I’m sorry,” said
Olivier in English, “but I’m going to speak French.” Gourmet’s acting win
somewhat echoed the Dardenne’s previous victory at Cannes, when their 1999
film “Rosetta” nabbed not only the Palme d’Or but also shared the Best
Actress award for its star, Emilie Dequenne. Gourmet also teased the
Dardennes, whose signature close camerawork often captures actors from the
backs of their heads. “I also want to thank my neck and my two ears,” he

The Grand Prix award, the festival’s second-place prize for best film, was
given to Aki Kaurismaki’s “The Man without a Past,” which was acquired by
Sony Pictures Classics this weekend. The Finnish director, previously in
competition with 1996’s “Drifting Clouds,” was strongly received by the
international press and critics, and his win inspired warm applause — as
well as one of the shortest acceptance speeches of the night. “First of all,
I thank myself,” he said in broken English. “Secondly, the jury.” His
film’s lead actress and a frequent star of Kaurismaki’s movies, Kati Outinen,
also won the prize for best actress, and she dedicated her award to Finland.
In the press conference afterwards, Kaurismaki continued his Nordic sense
of deadpan wit. When asked, along with a few other directors, why he
makes movies, Kaurismaki replied, “All my life, I have tried to make
films to beat other filmmakers.”

Cannes perennial Ken Loach, who twice took home the Jury Prize for 1990’s
“Hidden Agenda” and 1993’s “Raining Stones,” and whose 1998 alcoholism drama
“My Name Is Joe” won Peter Mullan the Best Actor prize, saw another of his
films win, when Paul Laverty was given Best Screenplay for “Sweet Sixteen.”

But the award that encompassed the widest artistic scope was the tie for
Best Director, jointly given to 66-year-old South Korean icon Im Kwon-Taek
for his epic painter biopic “Chihwaseon” and to 31-year-old Southern
Californian wanderkind Paul Thomas Anderson for his loopy romance
Punch-Drunk Love.” “I’ve taken a lot of years to get this prize,” joked Im,
director of more than 80 films, at the post-ceremony press conference. “And
when I see someone that young win it too, I’m jealous.” Clearly wowed by the
award, Anderson gave an acceptance speech both humble and sweet. “If you’re
a young boy and you grow up watching movies,” he said, “you always want the
French to like your movies.” Afterward, when a journalist asked if he felt
punch-drunk, Anderson playfully said, “Absolutely! Good question. Yes.”
[Stephen Garrett in Cannes]

GET THE COMPLETE LIST of Cannes Winners at

>> FRIDAY IN indieWIRE DAILY NEWS: Dispatch from Cannes: Sokurov and Noe
Shine; Provincetown Fest Sets Lineup

(indieWIRE: 05.24.02) — With only a few days left before Sunday’s closing
ceremonies and the announcement of this year’s prize-winners, the Cannes
Film Festival still has no clear breakout hit — just a collection of
well-crafted additions to the careers of talented auteurs; And, “Monsoon
Wedding” director Mira Nair’s HBO-produced “Hysterical Blindness,” will
open the Provincetown International Film Festival which will include
a lineup of 28 narratives, 20 documentaries, and five short film programs.


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