Director lends 'Jesus' rights to web service

CANNES — Spike Lee brought some movie talent wattage to the Mip TV mart Tuesday, when he came to endorse Babelgum, the latest venture by Italy’s newest media magnate Silvio Scaglia.

Lee has given the startup global Internet TV network — a sort of commercial YouTube — exclusive rights for three months to “Jesus Children of America,” a 21-minute short film segment Lee contributed to the Unicef omnibus film “All the Invisible Children.”

“I’m always looking for ways to get distributed,” the director said, adding filmmakers make films “so you can share your vision of the world with the rest of the world.”

He predicted: “In a couple of years, someone is going to shoot a film on a mobile phone, and they’ll show it in 35mm — it is going to come.”

Lee’s short film, an emotionally charged story about a teenage girl who learns that she and her junkie parents have HIV, aired before a roomful of TV execs including key distribs — interested in Babelgum, officially launching on the Croisette.

The service, which will be up and running within a couple of months, is similar in concept to Joost, the Netco that recently pacted with Viacom, only Babelgum is targeting niche content.

Tech guru Scaglia, who is netting around r1 billion ($1.36 billion) from the sale of his stake in Italian IPTV provider Fastweb, said Babelgum was aiming for 10,000 hours worth of content available to users by the end of 2007.

So far, the company has shelled out a trifling $10 million, paying minimum guarantees for around 1,000 hours of programming of all genres, from independent producers and distributors. Deals have been struck with about 30 companies, including news orgs Reuters Television and ITN. Eventually,the site is expected to generate and share revenues from advertising, rather than paying for content, he said.

Lee, looking dapper in a light gray suit and tie, said he felt nostalgic being back in Cannes, where he had been “five or six times, but always for the festival. It’s the first time for TV.”

“She’s Gotta Have it” screened at the festival 21 years ago, and “Do the Right Thing” competed in 1989.

“We were robbed (of the Palme d’Or)! We should have had it. It’s not sour grapes,” Lee quipped.

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