European filmmakers try bold stereo experiments

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In Hollywood, 3D is for family-oriented spectacles and low-budget suspensers, with little in between.

But in Europe, 3D slates range from live-action dramas to docus to comedies and auteur-ish toons.

“We think 3D technology can be adapted to any ambitious and creative projects — not only commercially driven children’s fare or action-adventure movies,” says Guillaume Blanchot, director of new media at CNC, France’s national film org.

That attitude, common across Europe, is leading to bold S3D cinema experiments.

Just as animated-auteur features like “Waltz With Bashir” and “Persepolis” proved that unconventional, adult-oriented 2D toons could succeed in a market dominated by CGI tenpoles, these European 3D pics aim to lure a more sophisticated audience than most Hollywood 3D releases.

In Gaul, CNC has been key in cultivating the breadth and diversity of local 3D projects. It has already supported 21 such pics, many of which are docus — including Marc Fafard’s “The Wings of Johnny May,” an Arctic-set biopic about the Canadian aviator; Mark Obenhaus’ “Gravity 3D,” on extreme sports; and the more intimate “Pina,” Wim Wenders’ biopic of the late choreographer Pina Bausch.

Popular thesp-turned helmer Alain Chabat (“The Whistler”) is prepping “The Marsupulami,” a live-action comedy. Based on Andre Franquin’s comicbook, the pic will star a pair of well-known actors, Jamel Debbouze (“Outside the Law”) and Lambert Wilson (“Of Gods and Men”).

There’s also a slew of S3D-animated auteur titles under way, including Patrice Leconte’s “The Suicide Shop,” an animated musical feature that uses 3D to get the look of a children’s pop-up book. Pic will be distribbed by La Petite Reine in 2012.

Germany’s Constantin Film has four upcoming 3D productions, including the territory’s first stereoscopic animated pic, Reinhard Klooss and Holger Tappe’s “Animals United” this fall.

In Italy, Wenders made his first foray into 3D with his 27-minute docudrama “Il Volo” (which translates literally as “The Flight”), made for $500,000. Meanwhile, in Spain, Fernando Cortizo’s feature debut, stop-motion pic “O Apostolo,” was shot in S3D for a modest $10.2 million.

In Blighty, producer John Bryant is looking to exploit 3D through a musical docutoon about the history of the universe, dubbed “Earth Chronicle.”

“At the moment, documentaries and smaller animation pics lend themselves well to 3D,” he says. “Overall, I think we’re going to see an increase in alternative content for 3D.”

But Screen Digest senior analyst Charlotte Jones warns that European 3D pics face a tough battle for space against Hollywood’s offerings.

“Indie 3D films are going to be more marginalized here, as there’s not enough screens (currently 12.5% of 38,400 European screens are 3D ready),” says Jones. “Plus audiences are becoming a lot more skeptical of the format, so competition is up.”

But this isn’t deterring Vertigo Films. The Brit shingle/distrib has already reaped 3D benefits following the success of live-action teen drama “Streetdance 3D,” which has generated $45 million to date, and invested earlier this year in Europe’s first 3D production company, Paradise FX.

Vertigo plans to keep making lower-budget pics in 3D, including a “Streetdance” sequel, and 3D-live action pic “Horrid Henry,” based on Francesca Simon’s popular children’s book character.

Says Vertigo managing director Rupert Preston: “There are certain, low-budget films that 3D enhances the value of. And while there aren’t enough 3D screens … this will hopefully change by next year.”

(Ian Mundell, Nick Vivarelli and Ed Meza contributed to this report.)

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