“I am not that indie film guy anymore,” quipped Universal Studios co-chairman David Linde on Wednesday in Germany where he is heading into his twentieth annual Berlin International Film Festival (but his first as the head of a Hollywood studio). The remark came during a brief post-lunch keynote at the intimate Screen International European Film Finance Summit on the eve of the Berlinale here in the German capital. Just one day after his first NBC Universal board meeting back in New York, and nearly one year after leaving his job atop Focus Features, Linde spotlighted a major effort at his studio right now, namely an expansion into local co-productions within a number of countries.
“Today, we are living in a remarkable era of cross-pollination in international pictures,” Linde explained during the speech, before sitting down for a short question and answer session with Screen’s Colin Brown. “Nowhere is that more evident than at this year’s Oscars,” Linde added, reciting a list of international nominees and even singling out the diversity among the best cinematography nominees.
Timing is everything and armed with evidence of the growing importance of an international focus, Linde and Universal are using the Berlinale and its European Film Market as a platform to emphasize their emerging strategy. “Berlin is really a true barometer of our experiences as producers and executives,” Linde said, detailing its importance within the crucial European marketplace.
Under corporate pressure to continue growth, Universal is eyeing international films and filmmakers as the key component of the strategy. “You have to find a way of expanding your business,” Linde said on Wednesday, “Most studios are looking overseas.” At the company he also recently restructured his approach to worldwide acquisitions, placing acquisitions executives for all Universal labels (Universal Pictures, Focus Features, Universal Pictures International, and Rogue Pictures) under one umbrella.
“Audiences are hardly asking for more (movies) from America,” Linde said, noting, ” Films are made everywhere, set everywhere and tell stories about people everywhere.” And so, with an emphasis on a new film economy that finds growing revenue from international releases, Universal Studios is launching partnerships with producers in up to seven counties, aiming to create more films locally. He cited a recent deal with Fernando Meirelles‘ 02 Filmes in Brazil, as well as successful recent releases of Sven Unterwaldt‘s “Seven Dwarfs” in Germany and “Dororo” in Japan. Most other studios are designating people to serve as development and production departments (internationally),” Linde noted, countering that Universal is, “more focused on the producers themselves.” And as some studios, like Disney, cutback on production, Linde continued, “We are not cutting back, we are trying to be more involved in production.”
Linde said that Universal is currently in the midst of defining where Universal will be involved with local production, a process that he expects will be defined ahead of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, adding that the studio is currently most active in the aforementioned Japan, Germany, and Brazil.
“We are looking to be in business with people who have the ability and the infrastructure to make multiple motion pictures and have a strong understanding of their local marketplace,” Linde detailed, “We are trying to put together a team of people and a group of films that represent diversity and a lot of opportunity at the same time.” But he cautioned that he relies on their producer partners to lead the way, admitting that even though he lived in Berlin a number of times while growing up, he is no expert on what will work in the German theaters.
“We’re really not trying to impress upon filmmakers our vision of the international marketplace, we provide real resources to produce, in an era where money is tight. There are fewer subsidies and more competition from studios and independents. We are basically one-stop shopping. Make a movie with us,” Linde quipped, “It’s easy… we write a check.” After all, Linde joked, “I sold my company to Universal…”
Piaf Pic Launches ’07 Berlinale
The 57th Berlinale opens Thursday night in Germany with an international film in the spotlight, namely Olivier Dahan‘s French/UK/Czech co-production about the life of Edith Piaf, “La Vie En Rose.” The anticipated world premiere launches a festival that will unspool some 373 films on 50 screens around the city. Nearly two-dozen titles, most of which will screen as world premieres here in Berlin, are competing for the Golden Bear this year, along with “La Vie En Rose” (see the complete competition list at the end of this story). Other anticipated premieres are included in the event’s many disparate sections, particularly the large Panorama and Forum sidebars that are almost separate festivals altogether. And the Berlinale is rounded out by the growing European Film Market, the Talent Campus for emerging “talents,” a new Generation section for youth and kids films, a retrospective exploring the image of women in silent films, a tribute to Arthur Penn, local work in the Perspektive Deutsches Kino section and a short film sidebar.
But on Thursday, much of the focus will be on the Edith Piaf, portrayed on screen by French actress Marion Cotillard in “La Vie En Rose.” Chatting with indieWIRE prior to the Berlinale, Picturehouse president Bob Berney said, “There is a natural (boost) that comes from being the opening night film,” and anticipating Thursday’s debut here in Berlin he added, “A lot of international attention floats back to the States. He will release the film in the United States in early June.
Saying that the film and her performance will launch actress Cotillard in a big way, Berney told indieWIRE that her immersion in the role reminds him of Charlize Theron‘s acclaimed performance in “Monster,” which he released and for which she won an Oscar. “Having seen the film,” Berney concluded, “She will be discovered in a huge way starting in Berlin.”
“Angel,” directed by Francois Ozon (France, Belgium, United Kingdom)
“Beaufort,” directed by Joseph Cedar (Israel)
“Bordertown,” directed by Gregory Nava (USA)
“The Counterfeiters” (Die Falscher), directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky (Germany, Austria)
“The Other” (El Otro), directed by Ariel Rotter (Argentina, France, Germany)
“Goodbye Bafana,” directed by Bille August (Germany, France, Belgium, United Kingdom, Italy)
“Hallam Foe,” directed by David Mackenzie (United Kingdom)
“Hyazgar” (Desert Dream), directed by Zhang Lu (South Korea, France)
“In Memory of Myself” (In memoria di me), directed by Saverio Costanzo (Italy)
“Irina Palm,” directed by Sam Garbarski (Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg)
“La Vie en Rose,” directed by Olivier Dahan (France, United Kingdom, Czech Republic)
“The Witnesses” (Les Temoins), directed by Andre Techine (France)
“Don’t Touch The Axe” (Ne touchez pas la hache), directed by Jacques Rivette (France, Italy)
“The Year My Parents Went on Vacation” (O ano em que meus pais saíram de ferias), directed by Cao Hamburger (Brazil)
“I Served The King Of England” (Obsluhoval jsem anglickeho krale), directed by Jiri Menzel (Czech Republic, Slovakian Republic)
“Ping Guo” (Lost In Beijing), directed by Li Yu (People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong)
“I’m A Cyborg, But That’s OK” (Sai bo gu ji man gwen chan a), directed by Park Chan-wook (South Korea)
“The Good German,” directed by Steven Soderbergh (USA)
“The Good Shepherd,” directed by Robert De Niro (USA)
“Tuya’s Marriage” (Tu ya de hun shi) directed by Wang Quan’an (People’s Republic of China)
“When A Man Falls In The Forest,” directed by Ryan Eslinger (Germany, Canada, USA)
“Yella,” directed by Christian Petzold (Germany)
OUT OF COMPETITION
“300,” directed by Zack Snyder (USA)
“The Walker,” directed by Paul Schrader (USA, United Kingdom)
“Notes On A Scandal,” directed by Richard Eyre (USA, United Kingdom)
“Letters From Iwo Jima,” directed by Clint Eastwood (USA)
indieWIRE’s coverage from the 2007 Berlinale and the European Film Market continues in a special section.