Par flexes major Cannes muscle

Studio beefing up presence at film fest

Paramount is planning an unprecedented splash at the Cannes Film Festival.

Studio’s spending serious bucks to bring in stars such as Jamie Foxx, Beyonce, Cate Blanchett and Bruce Willis and filmmakers like Bill Condon and Oliver Stone, along with former VP Al Gore.

Par is beefing up its presence at the fest via screenings of Brad Pitt drama “Babel,” DreamWorks’ CG toon “Over the Hedge” and global-warming docu “An Inconvenient Truth” as well as sneak peeks of Oliver Stone’s 9/11 drama “WTC” and Broadway musical adaptation “Dreamgirls.”

Paramount’s amped-up focus on Cannes marks a notable turnaround from the studio’s historically low-profile approach to the fest. Now, slightly more than a year into the tenure of Brad Grey as chairman, the studio’s planning an array of meet-and-greets and other activities, such as Stone’s presentation of the “WTC” footage as part of a 20th anniversary tribute to “Platoon.”

Grey’s bringing along his team of top execs — Gail Berman, Rob Moore, Alli Shearmur, Brad Weston and John Lesher. For Par, the pics to be showcased at the fest also embody their move to reinvigorate Paramount via a combo of star-driven vehicles, edgier fare, pics that can play in international markets and the creation of a new foreign distribution arm.

“As we put the final pieces on the new international distribution organization and focus on pictures with global marketability, the time and place felt appropriate to give these films a launch pad,” said Moore, president of marketing, distribution and operations. “Cannes feels like a really good starting point.”

Moore said the “WTC” sneak can help convey the theme of what ordinary people can achieve under the toughest circumstances. And he noted Par’s aiming for all five pics to perform better internationally than domestically; he admitted “Dreamgirls” will probably present the biggest challenge on that front.

Cannes will also provide Paramount Classics chief Lesher a platform to showcase his exec team, meet international distribs and seek acquisitions. Grey’s stressed that bolstering the specialty arm’s part of his strategy to provide more international traction for Par pics.

The Cannes offensive comes less than a year after Par decided to vaporize its two-decade UIP distribution alliance with Universal based on Grey’s belief that international box office is so valuable an asset that no studio should be content to share the spoils with its competitors.

The UIP split, which becomes official in January, also reflects Par’s belief that it can make a lot more money overseas by controlling its own destiny. Studio’s deal to buy DreamWorks was motivated, to a significant degree, by the need to feed its expanded foreign pipeline.

Par’s talent lineup for Cannes:

  • Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for “Babel.”

  • Beyonce, Foxx, Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose and director Condon for “Dreamgirls.”

  • Stone for “WTC”.

  • Willis, Avril Lavigne, William Shatner, directors Jim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick and DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg for “Over the Hedge.”

  • Gore and director Davis Guggenheim for “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Paramount may also start unveiling details of its new international infrastructure at Cannes. At the start of 2007, Par will take over operations for Australia, Brazil, France, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand and the U.K., and it is expected to open offices soon thereafter in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain and Switzerland.

In another development, Par Classics announced Wednesday that it will donate 5% of its domestic theatrical gross for “An Inconvenient Truth” — with a minimum guarantee of $500,000 — to a new bipartisan effort, Alliance for Climate Protection. Deal was announced by Gore, Lesher and Jeff Skoll, CEO of Participant Prods.

“Truth” opens in New York and Los Angeles on May 24.

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