Hot pix absent at Berlin fest

Still seeking a new identity as prizes are awarded today, the Berlin film fest picked up somewhat toward the end with a couple of stronger competition offerings, most notably the U.S./Taiwan co-production “The Wedding Banquet.”

Still, general feeling among attendees was that the lineup had produced several interesting pix but nothing explosive, such as “Strictly Ballroom” or “Man Bites Dog” at Cannes last year.

“I was afraid my film would lose momentum with a Berlin launch,” said a top international producer/distrib of his new U.S. A-title. “This has become an art film festival for the critics. Europe really needs a strong commercial film festival,” he added, including Cannes in his criticism.

On this year’s showing, Berlin is still having problems getting glamour and status pix in its perennial headbutting with Cannes.

Most talk centered on the American entries, with “Love Field” reckoned by many to be the strongest of the competition quartet, and “Malcolm X” praised for its epic scope. “Hoffa,” trailing poor word-of-mouth from the U.S., also drew praise, especially for Jack Nicholson’s performance. Out of competition, “Used People” also met with approval.

“Hero,” unspooling in the Panorama section, scored high with Euro crix following a disappointing U.S. run.

Fox pix dominated the competition and sidebars as far as U.S. fare was concerned. As a majority of films in a major Cinemascope retro were supplied by Fox, it led to speculation that some sort of deal had been cut — an idea not altogether discredited by insiders at both Fox and the fest. A disproportionately large share of the distrib’s slate found a launchpad in Berlin this year as UIP, Col TriStar and WB were practically on the sidelines.

Berlin has a history of supporting major studio pix with prizes and broad exposure to Euro auds, but gets less in return every year as stars and star helmers insist on staying far away.

Celebs were thin on the ground. Sole American A-listers making the trip were Danny DeVito (repping “Hoffa” and “Jack the Bear”) and Spike Lee with “Malcolm X.”

Non-U.S. fare was adjudged interesting at best, with few standouts. If there was a hit at Berlin, it was undoubtedly “The Wedding Banquet,” the undisputed winner of the concurrent EuropeanFilm Market. Prods James Shamus and Ted Hope received three morning phone calls from eager buyers, and were wrapping deals in all major territories on the last day of the fest. Six U.S. distribs were competing for the pic over the weekend.

Other titles generating some business were “The Cement Garden,””Die Denunziantin,””Samba Traore,””Belle Epoque” (another market success), “Sesame Oil-Making Woman” and “The Telegraphist” in competition, “El Mariachi” in the Panorama section and “Family Portrait” and “The Prodigal Son” in the Forum.

Country-wise, France and Italy were thinly repped. Italo competition pic “Diary of a Vice” by Marco Ferreri bombed. Scandi production was strongly led by “The Telegraphist” and fest sleeper “The Prodigal Son,” but the region with strongest overall turnout was East Asia, resurgent with a broad lineup from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan.

Two Hollywood vets who did come to town were Gregory Peck and Billy Wilder, former in town for a retro of his work, latter for a lifetime achievement award.

Peck announced his production company was busy raising $ 10 million for an American remake of “Wild Strawberries,””with Ingmar Bergman’s blessing.” It’s the first time Bergman has given a nod for a remake of one of his pix. Peck told Daily Variety that Canal Plus may supply significant financing for the project, which he hopes to put before the camera next summer.

Berlin’s market was dubbed a mild success, considering this year’s low production level, although the nine-day event was only really on its feet during the week.

Small U.S. arthouse distribs, such as NYC’s Zeitgeist and First Run, were enthusiastic about pix and buying.

Goldwyn’s Howard Cohen admitted to liking a few titles, but said that he would likely not return home with two titles as he did last year. Fine Line’s Bob Aaronson also wasn’t overly enthusiastic about offerings. Miramax’s David Linde said that it “only takes one hot picture,” but no “Strictly Ballrooms” were in sight.

Despite receiving two Academy Award nominations during the fest, Miramax had only one discreet screening of “Passion Fish” in Berlin, holding out for a bigger AFM launch. The Academy nod did have an immediate, positive effect on sales for Germany’s “Schtonk,” long on the market, and Belgium’s “Daens,” handled by Jeanine Seawell, also did well following the announcement.

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