God film quietly being sold

Larry Charles pic could attract controversy

Cannes isn’t usually a time to be shy. Sellers trumpet exactly what they’re selling to whom — even if the film doesn’t exist.

That maxim makes the case of the untitled Larry Charles project fairly unusual. Originally fostered by First Look, it migrated to IM Global (the recently renamed sister company of Intermedia) in April. Sold as Charles’ “Borat” followup, the pic is narrated by Bill Maher about “the role of institutional religion around the world.”

Based on a 10-minute promo reel seen by about 200 buyers Friday, the pic promises a blend of comedy and reportage that could attract significant controversy. A one-page “statement of intent” by Charles was released at Berlin, and some territories started responding then.

In order to avoid the uncomfortable situation of providing picketers with an address to which to mail anonymous threats, IM is doing its best to withhold names.

But as the list of territories sold grows — it’s at nearly 19 after France, the U.K. and Benelux were sewn up Saturday night. Italy, Russia, South Korea and Latin America are already gone. Six Japanese distribs are bidding.

The big question now: Who will buy the film in the U.S., Maher’s home turf? And how readily will they want to be known as the grinches who stole Christ?

“The filmmakers are in no hurry to sell domestic,” said Stuart Ford, managing director of IM Global. “We have comfortably covered more than 100% of the production costs through foreign sales.”

The pic has completed production but has not yet been cut.

A raft of domestic buyers were still in the hunt as of Sunday, among them New Line, Picturehouse, Miramax, the Weinstein Co., Focus, Paramount Vantage and several others.

Some who saw the footage believe it would be extremely difficult for a division of a major studio to handle the pic. Handily enough, though, Cannes 2007 is stocked with deep-pocketed indie players capable of distributing on their own.

The producers, Palmer West and Jonah Smith (“A Scanner Darkly,” “Waking Life”), fully financed the film. CAA is handling sales.

Among other IM Global titles attracting interest, “Speed” helmer Jan de Bont’s “Stopping Power” has sold in a few overseas territories, and a domestic deal is expected by fest’s end. Gulf Film grabbed Mideast rights, and Japan went to Gaga.

Pic, budgeted at $50 million and set to start shooting in August in Berlin, stars John Cusack as an American tourist whose daughter is kidnapped. An average dad who just happens to be an experienced test pilot, he engages in a cat and mouse hunt for his daughter, and the pic culminates in a 51-minute, real-time chase involving cars, helicopters and jets.

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