October buys ‘Smoking’ pair

New York-based independent October Films has closed a seven-figure deal for North American rights to French director Alain Resnais’ companion movies “Smoking” and “No Smoking.” October plans to release the films in June or July against big-budget studio fare, the company confirmed Thursday.

Sources indicated that October has committed a six-figure sum for the rights to the movie, plus a non-contractual print and advertising commitment that would drive the overall value of the deal north of $ 1 million.

“Smoking”/”No Smoking”consists of two separate films adapted in French from Brit playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s eight plays “Intimate Exchanges,” designed to be staged in repertory on consecutive nights. Screenwriters Jean-Pierre Bacri and Agnes Jaoui boiled down Ayckbourn’s stories about the lives of the inhabitants of an English seaside hamlet.

October partners Jeff Lipsky and Bingham Ray said each pic holds up on its own. “Smoking” is 135 minutes long, while “No Smoking” clocks in at 142.

“One of the interesting things about this work is that it comes with its own sequel,” said October’s other partner, John Schmidt, formerly Miramax chief financial officer.

Schmidt said the films’ simultaneous release will create “efficiencies in marketing.” He said the company is hoping “one film will feed another.”

“Smoking” and “No Smoking” are skedded to make their international debut in competition at next month’s Berlin Film Festival.

Although Resnais, 71, directed such classic French films as “Night and Fog” ( 1955) and “Hiroshima mon amour” (1959), his last movie released in the U.S. was 1987’s “Melo.”

“La Cage aux folles” director Edouard Molinaro has shot a trailer with “Smoking”/”No Smoking” stars Sabine Azema and Pierre Arditi that features the two actors walking to a theater in Paris arguing over whether to see Resnais’ “Smoking” or “No Smoking.” October Films is considering using the unique trailer in its U.S. campaign.

The acquisition adds to an already ambitious October slate, which includes the controversial “The Cement Garden,” Mexico’s “Chronos” and Pedro Almodovar’s “Kika.” The company plans a late June or early July release of “Smoking” and “No Smoking.”

Ray said there’s “always a paucity in the summertime of quality independent films, and there’s always room for a quality foreign-language film.” Last year, the company scored in a similar fashion with “Un Coeur en hiver.”

Acquisition of “Smoking”/”No Smoking” was completed in negotiations with Pyramide Intl. sales executive Claudie Cheval.

The project is an Arena-Camera One-France 2 Cinema production with the participation of Canal+, the Centre National de la Cinematographie, the Procirep , Rome’s Alia Film and Zurich’s Vega Film. October’s acquisition of the pix include all North American rights except Quebec.

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