United Artists goes Dutch to promote 'Valkyrie'

Tom Cruise may have been shunned by the German government this week, but he is welcome in Holland.

Cruise and partner Paula Wagner will make an unannounced stop at the European exhibitors confab Cinema Expo to unveil a first look at fare from the new United Artists: a 5½-minute clip of Robert Redford’s “Lions for Lambs,” the company’s first release.

The duo also will tubthump “Valkyrie,” the WWII thriller that the German Defense Ministry has prohibited from shooting at military sites in the country due to the actor’s ties to the Church of Scientology.

The Cinema Expo stop will be Cruise’s first at the event, which is in its 16th year.

Dennis Rice, UA president of worldwide marketing and publicity, is convinced the controversy won’t derail UA’s European launch. “It hasn’t affected our focus at all. We are excited about ‘Lions for Lambs’ and ‘Valkyrie.’ “

Rice added, “Cinema Expo is a great place to launch United Artists to the European marketplace. We recognize that this is increasingly a worldwide business, and Cinema Expo is as important, if not more important, than the other tradeshows.”

Last year, 1,250 people attended. No figures are available yet for this year.

In its opening two days, Cinema Expo already has attracted significant notables from the U.S. On Monday, Jeffrey Katzenberg touted the virtues of 3-D, and on Tuesday, Matt Groening unveiled 10 minutes of footage from “The Simpsons Movie.”

The well-received “Simpsons” sneaks wrapped up Fox’s product presentation, which was marshaled onstage by Fox Intl. co-presidents Paul Hanneman and Tomas Jegeus. Fox was saluted as the top-earning distrib overseas, with more than $2 billion at the international wickets last year.

A hefty chunk of the take — $1.3 billion — was from the 35 markets in Europe, the Middle East and Africa that fall under the stewardship of Christian Grass, Fox exec VP for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Grass told Daily Variety that the boffo year was the product of Fox’s dedication to “listening to local markets.”

Grass opined that the expert for the local market needs to be in the local market. “That’s not always easy,” he said. “There’s sometimes a balancing act between what the overall strategy is and how that strategy needs to be adapted for a local market.”

He stressed the need, for example, to adapt release schedules to suit regional variables such as school vacations and the weather.

Grass told exhibs here that “now is the time to jump onboard the digital bandwagon.” Referring to the virtual print-fee deal Fox and Universal signed Sunday with Arts Alliance Media, he said, “There is now a business model, and we need to get going.”

European box office grosses can be beefed up, according to Grass: “The per capita attendance in key territories Germany and Italy remain very low,” he said.

Grass identified Russia as the European territory experiencing the most marked growth — “There has always been a cinemagoing habit in Russia, and now the infrastructure is arriving,” he said.

In October, Grass is switching over to Universal Pictures Intl., where he will become president of international production and acquisitions.

Part of his vision for that role will be to help transfer international talent and stories to Hollywood.

“I think that’s the beauty of international right now,” Grass said. “International is not just exploiting films in international markets. If you run a truly international business, it means you hunt for stories, for talent, behind and in front of the camera.”

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