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CANNES ’06 MARKET DAILY: Fortissimo Coming to America; Sony Classics Grabs Besson’s “Angel-A”; Pictu

CANNES '06 MARKET DAILY: Fortissimo Coming to America; Sony Classics Grabs Besson's "Angel-A"; Pictu

In a move to expand its sales activities and bolster relationships with North American filmmakers, Fortissimo Films announced Thursday that it will open a New York office, with Winnie Lau heading the new bureau. Lau has been promoted to Senior Vice President of Sales & Acquisitions, the company announced in Cannes. She will be moving to New York City from Hong Kong this summer to launch the new office prior to the Toronto International Film Festival.

In a conversation with indieWIRE today, company co-president Wouter Barendrecht indicated that the decision to expand into North America is part of the “organic growth” of the company that has seen Fortissimo step up its activity in North American in recent years. In particular during Cannes this year, the company announced a deal to sell Todd Solondz‘s new film.

Chatting with indieWIRE earlier in the festival, company co-president Wouter Barendrecht indicated that one of the biggest areas of growth for his sixteen-year old company has been the move into more American films and documentaries. In the conversation with indieWIRE today, Barendrecht said that if there is one message he hopes to send to U.S. filmmakers with this announcement its that this is a particularly “exciting time for American independent cinema” for both documentary and narrative features and that Fortissimo hopes to expand its work with top U.S. talent.

The company emphasized that it seeks to foster long standing relationships that it maintains in New York, noting its bonds with Jim Jarmusch, Mira Nair, Killer Films, Hart Sharp, IFC Film and IFC Television. When asked about the many existing sales companies and reps in New York, Barendrecht said that he sees Cinetic, UTA, William Morris and others as greater partners, rather than competitors.

While Winnie Lau will head the NYC bureau, Mary Jane Skalski, a long-time U.S. acquisitions consultant to Fortissimo will continue to work with the company, they said Thursday. “In her five years with us, Winnie has contributed significantly to the growth of our sales,” the company said in a statement. “Winnie’s camaraderie and business acumen shared with both the US distributors and the filmmaking community are very strong and we will benefit by her closer proximity.”

Fortissimo’s Winnie Lau who will head the company’s new NYC office. Photo provided by Fortissimo Films.

Lau previously worked with Golden Harvest and was hired by the company in her native Holland, before re-locating to Hong Kong with Fortissimo. Fortissimo has five films screening in the festival here in Cannes (“Shortbus“, “Taxidermia“, “Sketches of Frank Gehry“, and “Look Both Ways.”

Fortissimo has had an active presence in Cannes this year, announcing that it recently closed a number of deals at the festival, selling “Shortbus” to BIM in Italy and Central Partnership to Russia. A number of American companies are understood to be considering the film, but insiders have said that a deal would like close after the festival; William Morris is handling film in The States. Barendrecht added Thursday that deals in the U.K., Australia, Spain and Korea are pending.

Other recent Fortissimo pacts include the sale of “Waiter” to BAC in France and United King in Israel, the sale of “When The Road Bends” to AMG in Japan and Pretty Pictures in France, and a deal for the untitled Todd Solondz film to A-Film in Benelux. [Eugene Hernandez]

Sony Classics Gets Besson’s Latest

In Cannes Thursday, Sony Pictures Classics announced that it has picked-up the North American rights to the French film “Angel-A,” directed and written by Luc Besson (“The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc“). The romantic drama is a magical fantasy starring French actor Jamel Debbouze and Danish supermodel Rie Rasmussen. “Angel-A” is produced by Europa Corp, who Sony Pictures Classics also worked with Tommy Lee Jones‘ “Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.” SPC co-president’s Michael Barker and Tom Bernard and Dylan Leiner, EVP of acquisitions and production, negotiated the deal with Gregoire Melin and Pierre-Ange LePogam of Europa Corp. No theatrical release date was given.

A contemporary picture set in Paris and shot in black and white, “Angel-A” is described by SPC as “a moralistic tale about a man, Andre (Jamel Debbouze), who gets a second chance in life when he meets Angela (Rie Rasmussen) a tall, femme fatale whom he saves from a suicide bid in the Seine River. The two spend a memorable summer night in nearly deserted Paris where Angela exposes herself as a true angel, sent down to save Andre from himself.”

“This movie is a love letter to Paris and romance,” said Barker, Bernard and Leiner in a joint statement. “In our view it is Luc Besson’s most accomplished and artistic work, both entertaining and satisfying. It’s great to continue our relationship with Europra Corp, Luc Besson and Pierre-Ange LePogam.” [Brian Brooks]

Roadside and Samuel Goldwyn Snag “Lassie”

Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn Films announced yesterday in a company statement that it will release the new feature film of “Lassie,” which is scheduled to open in theaters September 1. The Weinstein Company and Genius Products acquired the DVD and television rights to the film at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, the announcement stated. The film was written and directed by Charles Sturridge and stars Peter O’Toole and Academy Award nominee Samantha Morton. “This is a beautiful and moving new version of the classic tale that emphasizes virtues like loyalty, honesty and respect for animals,” said Roadside Attractions’ Howard Cohen in the company release. “It’s the kind of film that parents and children can be excited about seeing together.” [Tamara Schweitzer/indieWIRE]

Picturehouse Picks Up “La Vie En Rose”

Picturehouse has acquired the U.S. rights to “La Vie En Rose” by Oliver Dahan (“Crimson Rivers 2“), the life story of French chanteuse Edith Piaf starring Marion Cotillard (“A Very Long Engagement“) and Gerard Depardieu, Bob Berney, president of Picturehouse announced Thursday.

Picturehouse’s SVP of Acquisitions, Sara Rose and by Carolyn Blackwood, Executive Vice President of Business Affairs and Co-Productions, New Line negotiated the deal with Nicolas Eschbach, EVP of World Sales at TF1 International. Alexandra Rossi, VP of European/Latin American acquisitions and co-productions, based out of New Line’s London offices, tracked the project and brought it to the attention of Berney and Rose.

The film follows Piaf’s (Cotillard) rise from the slums of Paris to the limelight of New York, all the while struggling with her passionate romances and relationships with some of the greatest names of that time.

“Edith Piaf led an amazing and very cinematic life,” said Berney. “Oliver has done a tremendous job of capturing her spirit and Marion Cotillard transforms herself into the embodiment of Edith Piaf.”

Premiering this Saturday in competition at the Cannes Film Festival is Picturehouse’s fairy tale “Pan’s Labyrinth,” written and directed by Guillermo del Toro (“Hellboy”). [Brian Brooks]

Alpine Sets “Drug” For New Arm

Love Is The Drug” will launch the new theatrical distribution arm from Alpine Pictures, the company has announced. Written by Wesley Strick and directed by Elliott Lester, the film stars Daryl Hannah, Lizzy Caplan, John Patrick Amedori, and Jenny Wade.

In a brief statement, company CEO Ryan Carroll said, ” We’re looking forward to bringing new films to the forefront.” Other films on tap include Rotimi Rainwater‘s “Spit” and an action/thriller called, “The Trap.” Alpine is also producing David O’ Malley‘s “Dark Honeymoon.” [Eugene Hernandez]

[Get the latest from the Festival de Cannes throughout the day in indieWIRE’s special Cannes ’06 section.]

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