‘Jack and Jill’ wants to go beyond pale at AFM

WELCOME TO THE AMERICAN FILM Market and may all your deals be fruitful.

To paraphrase Billy Wilder, “When you strip away the phony tinsel of the AFM, you find the real tinsel underneath.

Still, it’s a place where financing comes together and some very good films emerge. One hopeful is director Agnieszka Holland who’s involved with Edward Pressman, dubbed producer of the decade in the ’80s by the now-defunct American Film, in a project titled “Jack and Jill.” The film project has been up the hill several times and never quite fetched the pail of financing. That’s why they’ll be hyping the film at AFM.

“J&J” has one heck of a pedigree. In addition to its producer and director, the script was penned by Jon Robin Baitz, the acclaimed playwright of “The Substance of Fire” and “The Film Society.” The story centers on a brother and sister who saw the plane crash that orphaned them as children. As adults they have developed into seriously troubled people, unable to cope with responsibility and shackled to each other via tragedy.

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It’s obviously unrelenting drama but features the type of acting challenges that attract high-caliber talent. In an earlier incarnation, Meg Ryan and River Phoenix were attached and other names have been on board.

Holland and Pressman have Ethan Hawke and Madeleine Stowe set as the siblings and Ron Rifkin as a slippery lawyer repping them in a legal claim for their inheritance. Kiefer Sutherland will also be in the cast and the package comes with a pricetag of $ 10 million-$ 12 million.

“It’s a great script,” says a studio exec. “We just find it too dark for a mainstream push.”

So, while foreign coin appears ready to commit, there’s just one significant hurdle ahead: The offshore money hinges on U.S. investment and, more importantly , American distribution that will ensure some profile when it’s released around the world. Expect Ed and Agnieszka to be knocking at your suite.

AS THE FILM WORLD SHRINKS, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to define pictures by nationality. The hallways and offices of the AFM are visible proof of the multinational nature of how films are put together.

The reigning champ of cross-cultural confusion has to be “The Wedding Banquet.” Producer James Schamus (whose “What Happened Was …” won at Sundance) got it made with Asian and U.S. financing, filming in New York with a Taiwanese director. The tale of a gay Chinese-American businessman who must hastily arrange his own marriage when his parents come calling from Taiwan has been a conspicuous indie success.

Schamus is beaming about a fascinating irony. On March 21 his “Banquet” is competing as one of the best foreign-language films (repping Taiwan) at the Oscars. Two days earlier, the same film will be among the handful up as the best American indies of 1993 at the Independent Feature Project/West’s Spirit Awards.

HIT THE ROAD, JACK: Though actor Liam Neeson has earned acclaim and an Oscar nom for his screen portrayal of German businessman-turned-humanitarian Oskar Schindler, he wasn’t necessarily first choice on Spielberg’s list. A serious contender for the part was beefy Aussie thesp Jack Thompson of “Breaker Morant” and “The Man From Snowy River” fame.

Thompson — who bears quite a striking resemblance to the real-life Schindler — was acting in the Amblin production “A Far Off Place” in Africa when he got wind of the opportunity. He sent Spielberg a test directed by “Far” co-star Maximilian Schell of Schindler’s farewell to his workers.

Spielberg was impressed and after Thompson wrapped, he asked him to tape several scenes involving Schindler and camp commandant Amon Goeth. Schell again directed and asked German-American actor Norbert Weisser to read Goeth’s role. That work cleared yet another hurdle and Spielberg had Thompson and Weisser reading for him at his Amblin offices.

Thompson ultimately missed by a hair but Weisser got a nice surprise. In yet another case of industry irony, the favor to Schell corralled him the role of businessman Albert Hujar in the picture.

SOME CANNES, SOME CAN’T: Just three months away from the Cannes Film Festival (May 12-23), an industry rep tells us he received his accreditation along with a note offering a 50% fare cut via Air France. He called the toll-free number to check on flights and cited the special offer for attendees of the Cote d’Azur fest. That was met with resounding silence. The airline could find no trace of the deal in the computer system.

Subsequent calls to Unifrance in New York and a festival rep in L.A. confirmed the offer but not the means of accessing it. However, he’s been assured the whole mess should be cleared up by June.