U.S. coalition in Rome

New Cinema Network pacts with Sundance on co-production event

Looking to build a real bridge between European producers and the U.S. indie scene, the Rome Film Festival’s New Cinema Network co-production mart is launching a partnership with the Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Program.

Five years after its inception, NCN has become a fixture on the European co-production circuit, having linked up with, among other institutions, the Berlinale, the Cinefondation Atelier at Cannes, London’s Emerging Producer Training Program and Beirut’s Screen Institute.

But this attempt to forge Stateside ties via a Sundance pact — 2010 is being considered a “pilot year” — could now turn Rome into a prime destination for American indie producers, especially in these tough times.

“We will see if the Americans are interested in finding overseas investors and if the Europeans are interested in investing,” says NCN topper Lucia Milazzotto. “It’s a new challenge; we will see if it works. Certainly U.S. indie cinema is close to the European sensitivity, so it makes sense.”

Sundance, for its part, helped Rome pinpoint four projects that could have European potential:

n “Cockeyed” Jodie Foster is reportedly attached to direct this drama based on Canadian author Ryan Knighton’s hot and humorous memoir about contending with progressive blindness diagnosed on his 18th birthday. Knighton wrote the screenplay, which Canada’s Storefront Pictures is developing.

n “Farming” Brit-born thesp Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (“Lost,” “Oz”) is seeking to make his directorial debut with an autobiographical tale of a young boy of Nigerian origin who grows up to become a black skinhead in London. Producers James Wilson and Charles Steel are developing.

n “Zeros and Ones” Story follows a woman who, while building an intelligent machine out of discarded computer parts delves into her grandmother’s Holocaust survival story. Pic is inspired by interviews that U.S. documaker and producer Avi Weider did with his grandmother, an Auschwitz survivor. Weider is looking to make his feature debut. Producers Anne Hubbell and Amy Hobby are developing.

n “A Birder’s Guide to Everything” Former PBS producer Rob Meyer, an NYU film school grad who shot an acclaimed short titled “Aquarium,” is looking to make the leap into his first feature with “Birder’s Guide,” billed as both a coming-of-age pic and a comedy. Pic follows a 15-year-old bird enthusiast who is contending with his mother’s death. He takes off with some friends on the eve of his father’s remarriage to chase a bird previously thought to be extinct. Producer Paul Miller is developing.

Concurrently, Rome this year has changed the format of its international section, called NCN Circuit, which will now comprise between eight and 10 projects selected only among those which previously made the cut at the European co-production markets with which NCN is partnered.

The NCN Focus Europe section’s spirit instead remains the same, with 12 to 15 sophomore features by emerging European directors selected by direct submission.

Rome’s link with Sundance comes after NCN had initially looked towards Asia as a possible new co-production continent for Europeans, only to realize that, due mostly to co-prod complexities, “we are actually not the right market for Asian projects,” as Milazzotto puts it.

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