Miramax on ‘Chi’ high in Milan

Ozon's 'Pool' footage creates buzz among U.S. buyers

MILAN — The formidable presence of Harvey Weinstein loomed large on the opening day of the Mifed film mart as the Miramax co-chairman jetted into Milan on Sunday to present the first footage from Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” and the world premiere screening of “Chicago.”

It was the first time anyone could remember seeing Weinstein in the halls of the Fiera Milano.

The “Chicago” screening at a downtown theater was open only to distribs, with all press excluded. Word of mouth at Miramax’s after-party was upbeat.

A day earlier Miramax unveiled Stephen Daldry’s “The Hours” to an equally strong response at Mifed’s so-called Saturday Pre-Screenings, an experimental event allowing sellers to showcase their premium movies before the market opened for business.

Other major movies unspooling included the Spike Jonze-Charlie Kaufman pic “Adaptation” and Alan Parker’s “The Life of David Gale” from Intermedia. Both “The Hours” and “Adaptation” had foreign distribs talking about likely Oscar nominations. “David Gale” also played well, although the pic’s February release means it will not qualify for an Academy run.

Packed screening rooms

Mifed’s decision to stage the preview event was vindicated by packed screening rooms for pics such as Miramax’s “Dirty Pretty Things” — a film that had already unspooled at the Venice and Toronto fests.

Buyers made the effort to arrive early in Milan for the event, having mostly stayed away from the now defunct London Screenings. Those few distribs who did make the trip to London in the week before Mifed found virtually no films of any interest — the only exceptions were HanWay’s “To Kill a King” and Beyond’s “Crackerjack.”

As Mifed proper got under way Sunday, the biggest buzz from U.S. buyers surrounded the footage of Francois Ozon’s English-lingo debut pic “The Swimming Pool,” unveiled by sales agent Celluloid Dreams. A U.S. pre-buy now looks on the cards.

Confusion reigned in the Fiera Milano as market veterans struggled to navigate the event’s new layout. The presence of Mifed hostesses handing out free champagne further addled the delegates’ sense of direction.

New Line gets deal

However, enough buyers found their way to their destinations for some deals to be struck. New Line Intl. closed a new three-year output deal with Entertainment Film Distributors for all U.K. rights to New Line pics through 2005.

Pact continues the long-standing relationship between the two, with one significant difference — previously, Entertainment has not taken pay TV rights, with New Line selling its movies direct to satcaster BSkyB.

Bavaria Film reported strong interest from foreign distribs in “Bibi Blockberg,” a German family movie in the vein of “Harry Potter” that sold to Japan and Thailand.

Ralph Kamp’s London-based Odyssey Entertainment announced that it is representing foreign sales on “Jonah — A VeggieTales Movie,” which has already grossed $20 million at the U.S. box office. Odyssey has struck a long-term deal with producer Big Idea to rep the “VeggieTales” franchise in all media outside North America. Deal covers sales of the “VeggieTales” library, and the promise of a new CGI movie every year from 2004.

TF1 Intl. started pre-sales on the $15 million Gallic secret agent thriller “Spy Bound,” starring Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci. Pic will be directed by Frederic Schoendoerffer.

Icon selling

Icon Entertainment Intl. quietly started selling “Gladiatress,” a British spoof on “Gladiator” from the trio of female comics behind the Channel 4 sketch show “Smack the Pony.” Icon also unveiled “American Cousins,” a Scottish Mafia comedy.

Anglo-Irish production company Little Bird unveiled the first project from its horror label Ministry of Fear. “Trauma,” about a man whose life takes a sinister turn after the untimely death of his wife, will be directed by Marc Evans (“My Little Eye”).

London-based sales outfit the Works confirmed that John Boorman will direct South African drama “Country of My Skull,” starring Samuel L. Jackson and Juliette Binoche, with Mike Medavoy among the producers.

Pandora picked up non-English-speaking rights to “Northfork,” directed by Mark and Michael Polish (“Twin Falls Idaho”), about an orphan boy dreaming of adoption to escape rural Montana. Paramount Classics has English-speaking rights.

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