Col to fan flames for Besson’s ‘Joan of Arc’

Studio acquires worldwide distrib rights

NEW YORK — Sony’s Columbia Pictures has acquired worldwide distribution rights sans France to Luc Besson’s $55 million biopic “Joan of Arc” starring Milla Jovovich from French major Gaumont, the studio confirmed Thursday (Daily Variety, May 20).

“It is a pleasure to further our relationship with an extraordinary filmmaker like Luc,” said Columbia Pictures president Amy Pascal. “This project … is sure to be one of next year’s most talked-about films.”

Gaumont will retain French distribution rights to the English-language film about the martyred Maid of Orleans, which begins shooting June 15 in France and the Czech Republic.

Sony had U.S. rights to Besson’s last megabuck English-lingo pic, “The Fifth Element,” which starred Bruce Willis and Jovovich. The futuristic actioner has grossed $270 million worldwide to date.

“This is a culmination of a wonderful relationship we’ve had with Luc, from ‘The Professional’ to ‘The Fifth Element,’ ” said Sony Pictures Entertainment president and chief executive officer John Calley.

Gaumont topper Patrice Ledoux, who has collaborated with Besson on five films, will produce “Joan” from a screenplay penned by Besson and Andrew Birkin, a frequent collaborator of Stanley Kubrick.

Although femme actioners such as New Line’s “The Long Kiss Goodnight” have traditionally faced obstacles at the box office, particularly overseas, Besson has scored with this genre before, especially his “La Femme Nikita.” which inspired a U.S. remake, “Point of No Return,” as well as a TV show on USA Networks.