Both men fight personal demons in documentaries

There are few more iconic names in the arena of world sport than former boxer Mike Tyson and soccer player Diego Maradona.

Both men, who have fought personal demons including drug addiction came to Cannes to tub-thump separate self-titled docs about their spectacular rise and falls, have millions of avid fans around the globe.

But while the Argentinean Maradona is arguably the greatest soccer player in the modern game, he is comparatively unknown in America, where people are more likely to confuse him with Madonna than extol the virtues of his legendary dribbling skills.

That has left Gallic mini-major Wild Bunch, which is handling intl. sales for both James Toback’s “Tyson” and Emir Kusturica’s “Maradona by Kusturica,” with the particular conundrum of how to convince U.S. auds Maradona is a sporting legend and not a pop singer.

“Maradona is much better known internationally than Tyson,” Wild Bunch’s Vincent Maraval told Variety. “Kusturica’s project is also different to Toback’s. It is a theatrical project and there is great awareness about it with buyers because the project has been around for three years.”

The Maradona doc has been one of their best performers this market, selling to buyers across the world, including Germany, Italy, France and the U.K.

Much of Latin America has snapped up the doc, too, with the exception of the larger territories of Mexico, Brazil and Maradona’s native Argentina.

That was part of a deliberate strategy by Wild Bunch to raise Latin American buyers’ already sky-high interest even further.

In North America, however, the pic remains unsold.

“Tyson,” whose U.S. rights are being sold by ICM, also still has no U.S. deal although a source involved in the negotiations told Variety that a deal is expected to be closed in the next day or so.

“There’s a lot of action surrounding it,” said the source. “I do believe it’s the case that sports films don’t necessarily travel that well but here we’re talking about Mike Tyson. It’s about a personality not a sports movie.”

“Tyson” has also sold solidly for Wild Bunch, with distribs in U.K. and France buying the pic and a deal thought to be close for Australia.

Those deals, however, have been significantly lower than those for the Maradona doc.

That is partly because the two projects were conceived on different scales, but also because of the disparity in the international profiles of the two icons.

As for the two men, it turns out they’re actually old friends.

“I went on his T.V. show in Argentina and performed once,” said Tyson, who is also in discussions with Jamie Foxx to play him in a feature biopic. “I know Diego. We’re good friends.”

Maradona also appeared to enjoy his moment in the limelight, taking the opportunity during his packed confab to jab back at rival soccer legend, the Brazilian Pele.

“I promised my daughters I wouldn’t speak about Pele but when he talks about me I feel I must respond,” said Maradona. Our biggest difference is that while he went to bed at ten in the evening, I’d be out until five in the morning. He is always negotiating. I believe that love is something you can’t negotiate.”

One shingle in Cannes, however, is betting the bank on sports pics scoring with auds across the world.

Monaco-based Osprey Pictures are developing a slate of 12 features centered on sporting themes. Among their prospective projects are a laffer about a U.S. rugby team, a polo movie pitched as Rocky on horseback as well as a full-blooded Greek epic about Marathon.

“The key is to have sporting themes not necessarily sports films,” Osprey topper Marc C. Smith told Variety. “These stories are all so inspirational, motivational and the perfect family films for audiences everywhere.”

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