Co. touts indies, competition films

As its name suggests, Dreamachine, the new international sales company from HanWay Film’s Jeremy Thomas and Celluloid Dream’s Hengameh Panahi, wants to combine imaginative thinking with the productivity of a finely tuned assembly line. But with the merger of the outfits just five weeks old, it will take some time to hit 100% efficiency.

“Cannes is going to be hell for us,” admits Panahi, who, together with Thomas, will unveil more than a dozen films at this year’s market and several others in various official sections. “It’s going to be a very hectic, tiresome and exciting year.”

“No one can deny it,” adds Dreamachine CEO Tim Haslam. “It’s a challenge merging the output of Celluloid’s lineup with the films that we’re currently selling.”

Celluloid brings to the Riviera such high-profile indies as Alan Ball’s “Nothing Is Private,” Tom Kalin’s “Savage Grace,” Harmony Korine’s Un Certain Regard entry “Mr. Lonely,” Todd Haynes’ unfinished “I’m Not There,” and two competition pics, Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s “Persepolis” and Naomi Kawase’s “Mogari no mori.” HanWay’s contributions include financed films in pre-production such as “Brideshead Revisited,” Phillip Noyce’s “Dirt Music” and Ewan McGregor starrer “Franklin.” Haslam also expects to announce another three to four entirely new projects during the festival.

While fledgling startups rarely face the pressure of unveiling some 25 films at Cannes, it’s a dilemma that Dreamachine welcomes. “We have a more powerful group of people,” boasts Haslam, who says that he, Panahi and Charlotte Mickie, head of Dreamachine’s North American operations, will all continue to be actively engaged in selling pics.

Thomas compares the team — which also includes Peter Watson, Philippe Aigle and Stephan Mallmann — to experts you’d find in a hospital. “We have specialists in each sphere,” he says, “from marketing to production to sales people and bankers. There’s a lot of knowledge, and I think that is going to be a real power for independent producers trying to make ambitious films.”

Panahi believes the new bulked-up sales company can be a viable option for name directors looking for autonomy from a studio. “With David Cronenberg or Phillip Noyce, we can compete with bigger companies to get their new projects,” she says, “because we can help finance their movie, but they can be more free and have final cut.” In addition, she says, they will also help give rising talents “a quicker breakthrough” and offer established foreign-language directors “a bridge over to a bigger market.”

U.S. buyers are impressed with the formation of Dreamachine and are eager to continue working with Thomas and Panahi. “I think they are an independent force to be reckoned with,” says Sony Pictures Classics’ Michael Barker, who pre-bought “Persepolis” for the U.S. at last year’s Cannes. “There’s a major skill set there.”

Based in Celluloid Dreams’ old office at No. 2 La Croisette during the festival, Dreamachine will also retain HanWay’s former Cannes base as a press office.

The company’s video-on-demand venture will not be ready for a Cannes launch, but Haslam says Dreamachine’s recent four-film licensing pact to Image Entertainment, including Oscar winner “The Last Emperor,” is indicative of company efforts to capitalize on its 500-title library. Dreamachine also recently licensed U.S. Internet rights to 42 of its films to Jaman, a movie download Web site devoted mostly to world cinema. “We wanted to exploit DVD aggressively, because we do anticipate over the shorter term that video-on-demand is going to go to massive growth,” he says.

Whether the new company will dominate Cannes remains to be seen, but one U.S. distributor believes it has the muscle. “Is (Dreamachine) going to have greater leverage with buyers? Yeah, probably,” says IFC Entertainment prexy Jonathan Sehring. “It’s a seller’s market right now, especially if you have pictures that have crossover potential.”

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