BERLIN — The icy rain turned to driving snow, the stars were in short supply and the competition was slow to ignite. Yet somehow the first weekend of the 55th Berlin Intl. Film Festival buzzed and bustled like never before.
That was due to the Berlinale’s resurgent market, where sales companies brought a slew of new projects to tempt the many distribs who were visiting the fest for the first time in the wake of the American Film Market’s move to November.
The pace of negotiations on fresh scripts and half-completed movies surpassed everyone’s expectations, even though the fest’s official lineup, normally the engine of Berlin deal-making, offered little to excite buyers or critics in its opening stanzas.
Lions Gate’s “Hotel Rwanda,” supported by the presence of Oscar nominees Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo, at least gave the media something to chew on. But it’s perhaps typical of the politically conscious Berlinale that the limelight was stolen by Paul Rusesabagina, on whose story the film is based, who brought along his entire extended family.
‘Thumb’ doesn’t suck
Mike Mills’ “Thumbsucker” was well received, with Keanu Reeves and Tilda Swinton in support.
But pics such as David McKenzie’s old-fashioned arthouse meller “Asylum,” Stefano Mordini’s “Smalltown, Italy,” Andre Techine’s “Changing Times” (with Catherine Deneuve but not Gerard Depardieu in attendance) and Hannes Stoehr’s “One Day in Europe” were greeted with varying degrees of indifference.
The fest did start to pick up on Sunday, with warm receptions for Marc Rothemund’s “Sophie Scholl,” an intense chamber drama about one of the few heroines of the German resistance during WWII; and for Paul Weitz’s moving dramedy “In Good Company.”
Unfortunately for the paparazzi, Dennis Quaid and Topher Grace came to Berlin without co-star Scarlett Johansson. But the competition screening of “Sophie Scholl” coincided with the presentation of the 21 young actors from around Europe selected for this annual parade of up-and-comers.
Overall, the rubberneckers and news media had good reason to grumble about the acute shortage of star wattage in the first days of the fest. Of course, a freezing wet February in northern Europe isn’t the ideal place to display celebrity flesh on the red carpet, but jury member Bai Ling and “Asylum” star Natasha Richardson both risked catching severe chest colds with their choice of plunging outfits for the benefit of the salivating snappers.
Back in the market — divided this year between the Debis building that houses the formal European Film Market, and suites in the Grand Hyatt hotel where major sellers such as Summit and Capitol have raised their banners — buzz surrounded several new scripts.
“Berlin has never been like this before,” commented Said Ben Said, head of UGC Intl, which was closing sales all around Europe for its upcoming Monica Bellucci actioner “The Stone Council.”
‘Bad,’ ‘Nothing’ unveiled
Arclight unveiled Paul Weiland’s “Three Bad Men,” a black comedy about three assassins trying to settle down in suburban America, to star Woody Harrelson and Brendan Fraser, and “Nothing But the Truth,” a teen comedy starring Ryan Pinkston.
Paris-based Celluloid Dreams boarded Tom Kalin’s long-gestating “Savage Grace,” starring Julianne Moore, from Killer Films, and Lone Scherfig’s “Good.”
TF1 Intl. announced a new Larry Clark pic, “Wassup Rockers,” and a $28 million Spanish swashbuckler, “Captain Alatriste,” to star Viggo Mortensen.
Lions Gate Intl. unveiled Billy O’Brien’s Irish horror movie “Isolation,” which it is selling outside North America, France and the U.K.
New Line Intl. got a rave response from its family of foreign distribs from a very private screening of “The Wedding Crashers,” starring Owen Wilson.
Another hot ticket was the screenings by Intandem Films of promo reels and footage from Steve Woolley’s “Wild and Wycked: The World of Brian Jones.”
Alongside the usual cabal of U.S. buyers, there was a strong presence of American agents visiting the fest, many for the first time, to broker deals and scout for talent, such as CAA’s John Ptak, Hal Sadoff of ICM and Arianna Bocco of Gersh.
(Alison James and Nick Vivarelli contributed to this report.)