Fox’s Newborn Searchlight Bows Its First Slate Of 14 Pix

Spike Lee’s “Girl 6” and an untitled Bernardo Bertolucci film are among the 14 projects on the first slate for 7-month-old Fox Searchlight Pictures.

The Fox Filmed Entertainment division – headed by Tom Rothman and designed to develop, produce, market and distribute sophisticated films aimed at adults – also announced Feb. 23 a two-picture deal with “Little Odessa” writer-director James Gray.

“With Searchlight, we set out to increase the breadth and diversity of the kinds of movies we were doing to include sophisticated, adult movies, and I think this lineup accomplishes that,” said Peter Chernin, chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment. “It also accomplishes our goal of forging relationships with the top existing filmmakers and with those we believe to be the premier up-and-comers.”

Searchlight films are expected to range in budget from $5 million to $15 million. The company is one of four production arms within Fox Filmed Entertainment (the others are 20th Century Fox, Fox 2000 and Fox Family Films).

Searchlight’s slate, with pix aimed over the next couple of years, includes development projects with established indie helmers and scribes Gillian Armstrong, Christopher Hampton, Agnieszka Holland, Ang Lee and Wayne Wang, as well as rising helmers Antonia Bird, Ed Burns and Lee Tamahori.

Rothman said fiscal 1995-96 likely will yield six releases for Searchlight, including Burns’ recently acquired “The Brothers McMullen” this fall, along with “Girl 6” and the Bertolucci project in early to mid-’96. Searchlight also has an option for Burns’ next picture.

“The plan is for us to produce the majority of the releases,” Rothman said. “We are also avidly in the acquisition business but there are fewer and fewer of those opportunities around, especially when you want to get worldwide rights.”

Lee will direct, produce and co-star in “Girl 6” with Theresa Randle (“Sugar Hill,” “Malcolm X”). It goes before cameras in mid-April. Randle plays an aspiring actress who takes a job in a phone sex business and finds herself attracted to its world of uninhibited role-playing. The film is based on a screenplay by Suzan-Lori Parks. Jon Kilik will executive produce.

The untitled Bertolucci project, previously known as “I’ll Dance Alone,” is the first to be made under the Searchlight/UGC alliance. UGC, Jeremy Thomas and his Recorded Picture Co. are set to produce novelist Susan Minot’s (“Monkeys”) script. Based on an idea of Bertolucci’s, pic is about a 19-year-old American girl who spends the summer at a house in Tuscany, where each of the male tenants offers his services in her mission to lose her virginity. Principal photography is slated to start in Tuscany in May.

“Little Odessa’s” Gray is working on a family epic set against the underground world of the New York City transit system. Gray will direct, with Paul Webster producing and Nick Wechsler executive producing.

Other projects at the ministudio include:

* Hampton (“Dangerous Liaisons’ ” writer) will team with “Liaison’s” producer Norma Heyman on the adaptation of the Joseph Conrad novel “The Secret Agent.” Hampton is attached to helm the project from his screenplay. Bob Hoskins is set to star.

* Sydney Pollack’s Mirage Enterprises and helmer Agnieszka Holland will join forces on “Nocturne,” a romantic thriller by Tom Sierchio (“Untamed Heart”). William Horberg will serve as producer, with Pollack executive producing.

* Ang Lee and James Schamus team on an adaptation of Rick Moody’s “Ice Storm,” a biting comedy set in the heart of the swinging suburban ’70s.

* “Flight of the Raven,” a psycho-sexual fictionalization of the final years of Edgar Allan Poe’s life, is set to be helmed by Tamahori (“Once Were Warriors”). Dallas Dorsett and James Mathers penned the script. William S. Gilmore and Cheri Turner will produce with Brillstein-Grey executive producing.

* Wayne Wang and Ixtlan Prods, are set for “Good Scent on a Strange Mountain,” a comedy about a Vietnamese community transplanted in New Orleans. Wang will direct from a screenplay adapted by Robert Olen Butler. Oliver Stone’s Ixlan Prods. will produce with Janet Yang and Heidi Levitt.

* Chris Menaul (“Prime Suspect”) will helm a spicy comedy based on the Honore de Balzac novel, “Cousin Bette.” Lynn Siefert and Susan Tarr adapted the novel for the bigscreen.

* Steve Tisch will produce the story of Rebekka Armstrong’s journey from Playboy’s Miss September 1986 to HIV-positive lesbian activist. Antonia Bird (“Priest”) is in negotiations to helm.

* Meg Richman will make her directorial debut with “Wings of an Angel,” a contemporary screenplay she wrote inspired by the Henry James novel “Wings of a Dove.” Lawrence Mark and Robin Schorr are set to produce.

* Just Betzer (“Babette’s Feast”) will produce “A Loving Gentleman,” the true story of the love affair between William Faulkner and Howard Hawks’ script supervisor Meta Carpenter. Thom Thompson will script, with David Hutchinson and Grazka Taylor set to executive produce.

* Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are developing the comedy-drama “Boo,” previously titled “The Magnificent Idiot.” Mann Rubin penned the screenplay from a novel of the same name by Peter de Polnay.