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CANNES ’08 BIZ DAILY | Weinstein Takes “The Alchemist,” Reliance Gives Funding To Hollywood, MGM Dis

CANNES '08 BIZ DAILY | Weinstein Takes "The Alchemist," Reliance Gives Funding To Hollywood, MGM Dis

Continuing coverage of the Marche du Film in Cannes, indieWIRE reports on the latest deals and news from the Croisette. The Weinstein Company buys the rights to best-selling book “The Alchemist,” Reliance announced plans to fund Hollywood production companies, IFC Films takes “L’Aventure,” MGM heads discuss the company’s future at the American Pavilion, a look at the Korean Pavillion, and more.

Weinstein Company Brews Up “The Alchemist” for the Big Screen; Harvey Weinstein Set to Produce

The Weinstein Company co-founder Harvey Weinstein will personally produce the screen adaptation of author Paulo Coelho‘s bestselling novel, “The Alchemist,” in which Laurence Fishburne will direct, star as well as produce, the company announced from Cannes Sunday morning. The $60 million-plus project will begin production later this spring or early summer, Mr. Weinstein said during a press conference at a seaside restaurant off the Croisette.

“Last week, we took over the project and now own all the rights,” said Weinstein. “As you know, I don’t personally produce films often. The ones I have have gone on to do well and also received Oscar nominations.” TWC holds exclusive worldwide motion picture and television rights for the film and Glen Basner, president of The Weinstein Company International, will handle global sales. The project was packaged by the Paradigm Motion Picture Finance Group. TWC is currently negotiating with what it described as an “Academy Award-winning screenwriter” to adapt the novel into a screenplay. Shooting will take place in various locations in Europe as well as the Middle East and northern Africa.

“Today is a day among days,” Mr. Fishburne said in a pre-recorded message that played at the press conference. “I consider myself the luckiest guy on the planet. I can’t tell you how overjoyed I am…” Fishburne directed the crime-drama “Once in the Life” in 2000.

“The Alchemist,” which has sold 65 million copies in 150 countries and has been translated into 56 languages according to BBC, is the story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who seeks adventure in pursuit of a worldly treasure. He leaves his native Spain and travels to Tangiers and across the Egyptian desert to a fateful encounter with the alchemist. The treasure he finds along the way becomes a lesson on the “essential wisdom” of listening to the heart and “learning to read the omens strewn along life’s path and following one’s dreams.” A search will begin soon in Spain and Latin America for the person who will portray Santiago.

“I think people today have a fascination with magic,” said Weinstein. “I also think that today’s youth will be moved by this character… When you have a pre-sold commodity like ‘The Alchemist,’ which is a very popular book, it’s a sure bet.” He went on to mention the successful track record that the Weinsteins have had in bringing literary classics to the screen, including “The English Patient, “Cider House Rules, “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Cold Mountain.”

Mr. Weinstein went on to say he had long been a fan of the book and has viewed other screenplay adaptations of the book, but none have ever worked. “I’ve read the book and always loved it, but I’ve read scripts and hated all of them. The thing is, I know how to shepherd a script, pun intended… I wouldn’t take time off from my company unless I really wanted to do this.” He then joked that some in his office will probably be happy to see him go. When asked about the possibilities of who might fill the Santiago character, Weinstein said that that remained to be seen, but quipped, “One way or another, I’m going to find a part for Penelope Cruz in this film.” He went on to compliment the Spanish actress for her role in Woody Allen‘s latest film, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” which had its world premiere Saturday evening in Cannes. [Brian Brooks/indieWIRE]

Reliance To Provide Funds For Hollywood

India’s Reliance Big Entertainment has announced it will provide development to eight production companies in Hollywood. Reliance is the media and entertainment company of Reliance ADA group, a US$100 billion diversified Indian conglomerate. The separate development deals are with Nicolas Cage‘s Saturn Productions, Jim Carrey‘s JC 23 Entertainment, George Clooney‘s Smokehouse Productions, Chris Columbus1492 Pictures, Tom HanksPlaytone Productions, Brad Pitt‘s Plan B Entertainment, and Jay Roach‘s Everyman Pictures.

The deals intend to provide for the creation of a development silo for each of the production entities and the possibility of Reliance co-financing projects that emanate from these development deals. Any projects that go forward with Reliance co-financing will have full creative and fiscal freedom. Reliance said in a statement that it sees the development deals “as part of the first major building block in the creation of a virtual studio, or new generation-media company.”

The deal also secure Indian rights for the films Reliance co-finances. Reliance also expects to attract productions to India, where they are the largest film producer and also own physical studios and facility companies. “Reliance Entertainment has a dominant position in India but, when it comes to motion pictures, it has been obvious we need to extend our footprint to Hollywood,” said Chairman Amit Khanna in a statement. “We are pleased to have devised this unique method of investing, whereby Reliance Big Picture can help advance the goals of several of the most important creators of the global industry.” [Peter Knegt]

Mary Parent (left) and Harry Sloan of MGM talk to a crowd at the American Pavilion Saturday. Photo courtesy of the American Pavilion.

IFC Eyes “l’Aventure” to the U.S.

U.S. rights to French director Jean-Claude Brisseau‘s forthcoming feature “a l’Aventure” have been pre-bought by IFC Films, the New York-based distributor announced from Cannes. IFC Entertainment president Jonathan Sehring negotiated the deal with Francois Yon, and Nicolas Brigaud-Robert of Films Distribution. “Aventure” will debut during the autumn festival season and is written by Brisseau and produced by Frederic Niedermayer.

Carole Brana stars as Sandrine, a woman who is unsatisfied sexually by her boyfriend. Through a young psychologist (Arnaud Binard) she meets Sophie, (Lise Bellynck) who intrigues Sandrine with her stories of sexual experimentation.

“We’re thrilled to be working with Jean-Claude again, as we had such great success with his last film ‘The Exterminating Angels,'” commented Sehring in a statement. “A fearless director in his exploration of female sexuality, ‘a l’Aventure’ looks to repeat that success and be one of his most exciting and entertaining films yet.” [Brian Brooks]

A New Day For MGM

MGM‘s new chairperson Mary Parent, who joined the company eight weeks go, sat down with Harry Sloan, MGM’s chairman & CEO, for a conversation as part of the American Pavilion’s ongoing series of panels and events. A ten-minute highlight reel focusing on MGM’s rather stunning collection of films (its library has more than 4,000 films, twice as many as any other company) started things off, with moderator and Variety editor Tim Gray introducing the company as one “with a lot of misconceptions and a lot of curiosity.”

While those suggestions remain true far back into Hollywood history, Parent and Sloan represent a very new MGM. Sloan joined the company in 2005, during the ill-fated take over of MGM by Sony (which Sloan attributes to a subtext involving Sony trying to push BluRay DVDs, which MGM’s massive library assisted in). “Ultimately MGM needed to stand on its own,” said Sloan. “We needed to go into original production. Films like ‘The Hobbit‘ are immense opportunities.”

Parent was brought in to help oversee this overhaul. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Parent said of her new job. “It was an opportunity to create a creative environment that is really focused.” A longtime producer, Parent’s vision for MGM intends to come into full focus by its 2010 slate, with 8-12 original productions from MGM itself, another 5 from its partner company United Artists, and 4 or 5 acquisitions. The titles will be themed “across the board,” said Parent. “And the [MGM] library is a treasure chest. There is a great deal to pull.”

For MGM, among those is a continuation of Bond and Pink Panther sequels, an announced remake of “Fame” and a not-yet-announced remake of “RoboCop,” possibly in 3-D. “‘RoboCop” would be great in 3-D, as would something we’re hoping to announce soon,” said Parent. This also includes “The Hobbit,” which will be filmed in two parts released in 2011 and 2012, and maybe more after. “There’s 80 years between the end of ‘The Hobbit’ and the beginning of ‘The Lord of the Rings,'” said Sloan. “Think of the franchise.” One other idea MGM was toying with was more “Rocky” films. Parent asked for a show of hands from the audience who might be in to that. Though there were a few very enthusiastic responses, many kept quiet

There’s also MGM’s deal with United Artists, run by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner (an independent production house that’s films are exclusively distributed through MGM). This most famously includes “Valkyrie,” which despite bad buzz, Parent and Sloan insist otherwise. “The film will speak for itself,” said Parent. Sloan compared the bad press to that of “Casino Royale” and “Rocky” and seemed quite optimistic. He also seemed to have full faith in Parent. “Mary has not only energized MGM but has given the whole town something to talk about,” he said. [Peter Knegt]

Supermodel Julie Ordon, who has been signed to appear in Seven Arts’ “Catwalk.” Photo by Brian Brooks.

Seven Arts Pictures Expands Talent Base

Supermodel Julie Ordon has been signed to star in the horror flick “Catwalk” with Seven Arts Pictures. The film, currently in pre-production, details the experiences of a young model making her name in the industry when there have been recent murders of four supermodels. Director Anthony Hickox has previously collaborated with Seven Arts on the thriller “Knife Edge,” also on the market at Cannes. “Julie has established a significant fan base from around the world throughout her modeling career and we are proud that Seven Arts will mark the first English language film for this versatile talent,” said Seven Arts founder Peter Hoffman in a statement. The company has also signed Julie Jentsch to star in “Men Don’t Lie,” along with Michael Madsen and Guillaume Depardieu. [Jenny Sung]

KOFIC is Assured, Beaming With Talent and Pride

Hot on the heels of last year’s success, “Secret Sunshine” (“Milyang”), the Korean Pavilion was buzzing with talk about Saturday’s screening of Na Hong-Jin‘s “The Chaser” and their co-hosted reception with Pusan International Film Festival at the Atrium Beach on Monday evening. Although Sunday was a day soaked with sun, the sudden splatter of rain didn’t dampen chairperson Hyeon-seung Lee‘s willingness to promote the proud history of the pavilion. “We’ve had a presence in Cannes for a very long time now. Since the early 1990s we’ve had a booth, and a pavilion from 2000,” Lee said as he was recovering from the previous evening’s “The Chaser” after party. Adding to the fatigue is the fact that he was newly appointed Chairperson from Vice-Chairperson of the Korean Film Council (KOFIC) after the sudden leave of Ms. An Cheong-Sook two months ago. “It’s tough, but the working environment hasn’t changed much,” reflected Lee.

Although the nation has no films in competition this year, the highly anticipated film by Jee-woon Kim, “The Good, The Bad, The Weird,” will be screening in the Lumiere theatre on the last Saturday of the festival. “I’m excited for the film to show at Cannes, but I wish it would have screened earlier into the festival, so that a buzz could be generated for it,” noted Lee. “Nevertheless, I’m very excited for the screening.” The Pavilion hopes to show that Korean cinema is not about a select few “auteurs,” but that the talent in Korea is versatile and can span many genres. This year’s “Tokyo!” as an exemplar, Lee expressed Korea’s willingness to expand to co-productions and the ability of Korean filmmakers to stand up to heavy hitters such as Michel Gondry.

A successful director in his own right, Lee has been attending Cannes for fifteen years, with his presence this year for his duties as KOFIC Chairperson. With that title, he has a very specific vision for KOFIC and the Korea Pavilion’s presence at the festival. The pavilion (and KOFIC) is fully funded by the government but doesn’t let the source of their budget get in their way. The Nine Commissioners of KOFIC are all industry professionals who make the vital decisions that direct the Council’s artistic trajectory. When asked about the tension that could conspire between politics and art, Lee interjected saying, “No, there is none.” Continuing on about what or who he would like to see this year, Lee said with a smile, “I would like to see something special to occur with our films or our companies, but otherwise, I would love to see Woody Allen‘s latest.” [Jenny Sung/indieWIRE]

Get the latest from the 2008 Cannes Film Festival in indieWIRE’s special section.

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