Event sees few pix screened, but dealmaking is still active

LONDON — They are called the London Screenings, but last week’s event in the British capital should have been renamed the London Meetings.

The shortage of genuine premieres and glitzy parties robbed the event of its original sense of purpose, ahead of this week’s more conventional Mifed film market in Milan.

The London Screenings evolved as a way for sales companies to take advantage of London’s superior facilities, in order to present their premium theatrical movies to buyers in the best possible light.

But the slowdown in indie production, itself a hangover from Hollywood’s phantom strike threat earlier this year, resulted in a curiously underpowered few days, which ended with many major buyers heading for home instead of traveling on to Milan.

“No one screened anything, it was just meetings and promo reels. But that’s worked fine for us. There was plenty of activity, just not much excitement,” says Universal’s Graeme Mason.

Selective buying

“Good for meetings, bad for screenings, but we’re a very selective buyer,” was the summary from Ruth Vitale of Paramount Classics, who spent the week huddling with British filmmakers on pics she had already bought.

Participants had plenty of time on their hands to gossip about the takeover of Initial Entertainment Group by Intermedia, which would consolidate two the indie market’s most important purveyors of big-budget movies.

There was also much talk about another hot topic, whether London and Mifed can really survive as a twin event, or whether they should be swept away and replaced by moving the American Film Market to the fall.

U.S. acquisition buzz focused on a handful of projects. Dimension Films paid north of $5 million for North American and Italian rights to Robert Harmon’s “They,” after Good Machine Intl. screened just three minutes of the horror pic.

‘Suicide’ watch

Miramax and Paramount (in league with MTV Films) were also circling a worldwide deal on John Polson’s stalker pic “Swimfan,” which Cobalt Media is selling.

Several U.S. distribs were also preparing to bid for “Wilbur Commits Suicide,” the next script by “Italian for Beginners” helmer Lone Scherfig.

But Trust Films honcho Peter Albaek Jensen tells Variety that because there’s so much U.S. interest, he has decided to wait until he can show footage at the Berlin fest next year before he closes a deal. “I’ve got too greedy,” he quips.

Some buyers were also tipping an imminent U.S. deal on the next Mike Leigh pic, “Untitled ’02,” which StudioCanal is selling without either script or footage, in Leigh’s usual secretive style. With Leigh’s old buddy Bingham Ray now ensconced at United Artists, it would be a big surprise if any other company got the film.

‘Down’ confounds

More problematic is Neil Jordan’s $30 million “Double Down” from Alliance, which had some U.S. buyers scratching their heads after seeing a few minutes of footage in which they strained to understand pic’s star Nick Nolte.

Nor was there much enthusiasm for Pathe’s “The Abduction Club” or Lolafilms’ “Off Key.”

Richard Eyre’s “Iris,” already firmly in the possession of Miramax for the U.S., attracted strong word of mouth after it was screened by Intermedia. Foreign buyers are being encouraged by the prospect of a bullish Miramax Oscar campaign for the pic, and especially its star, Judi Dench.

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