U.S. players upbeat about Berlin prospects

Sundance's juice boosts U.S. reps at Euro mart

BERLIN — The most eclectic Yank contingent in decades hits town over the next few days, and almost to a man they are upbeat about the prospects for the 11-day Berlinale.

For one thing, many of them are coming off a sizzling Sundance in Park City, Utah, where mucho dinero was plunked down to acquire rights, in many cases, worldwide rights, to offbeat or controversial movies. Think “Teeth,” “Son of Rambow” and “Grace Is Gone.”

In some cases those U.S. pics will be looking for takers across Europe and beyond.

Other Hollywood execs are attending to accompany and/or license rights to one or another pic in the many Berlin sidebars.

Sue Kroll, Warner Bros. Pictures Intl. marketing prexy, will be shepherding three studio pics — “The Good German,” “Letters From Iwo Jima” and “300” — that will soon be released across Europe. (The first pic, appropriately enough given that it’s set in Berlin, is in the main competition.)

“In all three cases, Berlin is perfect for these movies,” Kroll said. “Festivals are a huge part of our release strategy, and this festival — its timing, its seriousness — is the best place to introduce each of these.”

Clint Eastwood apparently agrees and will be on hand Feb. 11 for the European preem of “Iwo Jima.” (Companion piece, “Flags of Our Fathers,” opened in Germany mid-January.)

For its part Universal is bringing “The Good Shepherd,” which also unspools in the main competition. U Pictures co-chairman David Linde and exec VP Michael Joe will head that studio’s contingent.

On the indie and niche label front, Yanks with projects to pre-sell and those on the lookout for product to buy concur that Berlin’s market status has been newly reinforced.

“I had 99 emails about Berlin on my flight back from Sundance,” said Mark Horowitz, who just recently branched out on his own with a new banner called H2O.

“In my view Berlin is now the third leg of the tripod of markets — there’s AFM in the fall, Berlin in the winter and Cannes in May. That’s the new paradigm.”

Among the projects Horowitz will be flogging are “People Who Knock,” based on a Patricia Highsmith novel; “Crawling by Night,” about a Japanese man who has a torrid affair with a woman in New York; and “Opium,” a period piece about sex, psychiatry and obsession set in the early Freudian days.

For Americans on the acquisitions side, however, Berlin is mainly about finding the rare gem, rather than bringing home a lot of bling.

There are just too many U.S. shingles out there looking for a very finite number of possible titles that might work Stateside, Par Vantage co-prexy Nick Meyer said. His shingle snapped up “Son of Rambow” at Sundance, and it’s still unclear whether that pic will go through Paramount’s own distribution pipeline or be sold off in major territories.

Roadside Attractions co-prexy Howard Cohen pointed out that foreign-language titles (the bulk of what’s available in Berlin) are very hard to justify for the U.S. market but he’s hopeful a few interesting titles pop up in competition, Panorama or in the market itself.

“A certain kind of high end movie that does well on the American arthouse circuit can be found in Berlin. Since there’s less likely to be a breakout commercial hit for the Hollywood majors to be interested in, there’s more room for companies like ours to maneuver,” Cohen said. Back on the sales front, Lightning Entertainment prexy Richard Guardian will be on hand to license “West,” which unspools in the Generation 14 Plus sidebar, and the unlikely Oz hit about Port-a-Potties called “Kenny.”

“There’s definitely an appetite in Europe for films such as these, though distribu-tors are being quite careful. Audiences, after all, have so many choices among multichannel TV, Internet, videogames, i-Pods and the like. We as movie sellers are just one more competitor for the consumer’s time.”

Not that Guardian is pessimistic, since he points to the number and diversity of distributors who are skedded to be on hand in Berlin.

There are a number of reasons he and others expect business to be buoyant abroad.

“Box office around the world is buoyant, ad revenues for TV stations are up — and the exchange rate with the dollar advantages the euro-zone countries” is how several of the American attendees summed up the situation.

And if the recently wrapped Sundance event was any indication, there’s a healthy appetite among prospective buyers for any pic or project with edge or attitude or identifiable audience appeal (the audience can be limited; it just has to be quantifiable).

Cinetic’s John Sloss said he expected “a continuation of discussions initiated at Sundance” on several of his titles — most notable, perhaps, the Paul Schrader thriller “The Walker,” which toplines Woody Harrelson and Kirstin Scott-Thomas and is screening out of competition.

Lionsgate Intl. prexy Stephanie Denton said she’s already in deal mode on genre titles she’ll be bringing to Berlin.

“What we like about Berlin is how well run it is. With our growing slate, we expect to close a lot of deals while at the market,” she said.

Another distributor with a high-profile project in tow is Rigel’s John Laing, whose pic, “When a Man Falls in the Forest,” is in the main competition.

Pic reps not only the first time distrib Rigel has had a film in competition, but also the first time Rigel has been involved with a feature film.

Kim Fox, head of sales and distribution at year-old QED, will have several films to pitch in Berlin, including “Smart People,” with Dennis Quaid and Sarah Jessica Parker, as well as a British comedy called “Magicians.”

Fox said her company is responding to distributors’ desire for “smart, well-priced projects.” They’re just not responding to “over-inflated budgets,” she added.

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