Buyer feeding frenzy at Cannes

IFC snaps up 'Four Weeks;' who will ring 'Bell'?

As the hoopla at Cannes finally shows signs of peaking, a number of U.S players came up for air, either to announce pictures they’ve bought or to trumpet pictures they’ve sold.

With so much money pouring into the international film business, and with the competition for top titles so intense year-round, most outfits that can afford to are stepping up to acquire product before it’s even made.

A half-dozen of the top U.S. players — Summit, Par Vantage, Picturehouse, the Weinstein Co. and Sony Classics among them — have been circling a handful of fest titles, with various degrees of “must-have” enthusiasm.

Cocktail scuttlebutt here has almost always included the Competition title Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” whose distrib Pathe put on another screening for buyers at 4 p.m. Tuesday. No deal was expected before that.

Other fest titles that attracted more than nibbles include the Romanian title called “4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days.”

Directed by Christian Mungiu, pic had its gala unveiling Thursday and has since set cinephile tongues wagging. IFC bought the picture for an undisclosed sum Tuesday.

Bidding involved multiple suitors, but a few of the U.S. indie distribs interested in breaking out the next foreign-lingo sensation dropped out or declined to bid for fear the film’s abortion story could jeopardize box office potential.

Not that everything in the Riviera resort was moving quickly.

At least two American companies, Warner Independent Pictures and Overture, kept their purse strings tight, and did not make any major acquisitions — at least not here on the spot.

Overture CEO Chris McGurk said earlier in the week that his company had no intention of getting involved in an overheated bidding war.

WIP execs purportedly liked a number of titles but weren’t convinced of their commercial potential in the U.S.

Patrick Wachsberger’s Summit Entertainment, which recently got a billion-dollar injection from Merrill Lynch, apparently did sizable sales biz, but was not ready to unveil them as of late Tuesday.

Jodie Foster-Gerard Butler title “Nim’s Island,” which begins lensing in Australia this summer, is likely to have chalked up a number of deals for continental Europe. Film is the first of four titles from Fox Walden, a joint venture between Fox and Walden Media, which plans to make family films. A deal with UPI for U.K., Oz and New Zealand rights was clenched a few days ago.

On the acquisitions front, it was another story for Summit.

“We were mainly looking for broad, commercial titles and we really hadn’t identified many here that we thought would fit the bill. We bid for the James Gray (‘We Own the Night’), but that’s the only one,” said Summit’s Rob Friedman.

A few hot titles did get spoken for in the last day or two on the Croisette, with the most active American acquirer hands down the Worldwide Acquisitions Group at Sony under Peter Schlessel.

Among the titles not yet made that attracted attention was Jon Avnet’s “88 Minutes,” which was nabbed for North American rights by Sony. Pic stars Al Pacino.

Deal was unveiled Tuesday by Nu Image’s Avi Lerner and Sony’s Schlessel. The film is slated for a 2008 TriStar release.

“They are going to do well by this film,” Lerner said of Sony’s U.S. box office prospects with the film.

In “88 Minutes,” Pacino stars as a college professor who moonlights as a forensic psychiatrist. He receives a death threat claiming he has only “88 minutes” to live.

Earlier Schlessel scooped up the North American and various international rights to the remake of “The Long Good Friday,” from Handmade Films and “We Own the Night.”

Another title likely to rate a deal by fest end is the Directors’ Fortnight opener “Control,” the black and white rock ‘n’ roll pic about Joy Division’s Ian Curtis.

Meanwhile, various other companies took the wraps off their highest-profile sales deals made here on the Croisette. Among them:

Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, in Grand Hotel terrace digs for its second year, made notable headway on several titles, including “Synedoche,” the directorial debut of Charlie Kaufman, which began shooting Monday.

Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener, pic was sold to Asmik Ace in Japan, Bim in Italy, Svensk in Scandi and Village Roadshow in Oz and in Greece.

Another title, “Unthinkable,” about a nuclear bomb in the U.S. from helmer Tarsem Singh, racked up deals in France with Metropolitan, Germany with Senator and Spain with On Pictures, among others.

“We did exceptionally well. I think buyers now realize that we can deliver the projects we announce. We have three more movies coming out in the next three months,” said SKEfilms prexy Mark Lindsay.

Over at Myriad Pictures, the sales team under Kirk D’Amico made several sales of the Catherine Zeta-Jones and Guy Pearce starrer “Death Defying Acts” after a 20-minute screening tape.

Deals were made with Lionsgate for the U.K., Dendy for Australia, DeAPlaneta for Spain, Eagle for Italy, Nordisk for Scandinavia, Korea Screen for South Korea, Imagem for Brazil and Gussi for Mexico.

Also, Audiovisual for Greece, Shapira for Israel, LNK for Portugal, Pyramid for Russia and the Baltics, AQS for Eastern Europe, Equinoxe for Canada, PT Camila for Indonesia and Prime Pictures for the Mideast.

Finally, Lightning Entertainment inked agreements in key territories for the drama “Bonneville” and the teen comedy “Cougar Club”

“This has been a robust market for Lightning. Coming in to Cannes, we expected a strong sales response to these films and the rest of our slate and we haven’t been disappointed,” said co-president Richard Guardian.

The drama “Bonneville,” toplining Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Joan Allen and Tom Skerritt, was snagged by Swift in France, Teodora in Italy, Moviebank in Benelux and Paris Filmes in Brazil, among others.

Company’s teen comedy “Cougar Club,” starring Joe Mantegna, Faye Dunaway and Carrie Fisher, has been caged by AMG in Japan, K-Entertainment in South Korea, Ster-Kinekor in South Africa and ITV in Romania.

(Alison James contributed to this report.)

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