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Disney, Lynch go ‘Straight’

Mainstream pic a twist for helmer

In an unlikely pairing, Buena Vista has pacted with David Lynch to distribute the filmmaker’s latest slice of Americana, “The Straight Story,” in the U.S., Scandinavia and Australia.

Pic, which premieres May 21 in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, will be released under the Walt Disney Pictures label at a date yet to be slated.

Based on true-life events, the approximately $9 million pic follows the six-week, 350-mile trek made by 73-year-old Alvin Straight from Laurens, Iowa, to Mt. Zion, Wis., on his ’66 John Deere riding mower. Straight struck out on the tedious road trip in order to mend his relationship with his 75-year-old, ailing brother.

While the film, in typical Lynch style, exposes the seeming fringe of American society, “Straight Story” (Lynch’s first film since 1997’s “Lost Highway”) is said to be a more wholesome, mainstream film than most of his prior entries, thus earning its release through the Walt Disney Pictures label.

Pic stars Richard Farnsworth, Sissy Spacek and Harry Dean Stanton. Lynch directed from a screenplay by John Roach and Mary Sweeney and was produced by the Picture Factory.

Les Films Alain Sarde and Le Studio Canal Plus, who co-financed the film, are handling all other international sales and distribution.

“I went and saw this movie with Mary (Sweeney) at David’s screening room,” said Peter Schneider, prexy of Walt Disney Motion Picture Group. “It’s a beautiful movie about values, forgiveness and healing and celebrates America. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was a Walt Disney film.”

Lynch admitted that his “core audience will be shocked” by his latest film, which, unlike previous films, shouldn’t have any problems with the MPAA ratings board.

Asked if “Straight Story” is a sign of a mellower helmer, Lynch told Daily Variety, “We all have so many different things inside us, this is more akin to ‘The Elephant Man.’ ”

October Films, which distributed Lynch’s “Lost Highway,” had been in negotiations to acquire North American rights for the film, but a deal never materialized.

It’s unclear why October, which at one point flirted with financing the entire film, never made the deal, but one source says the negotiations may have broken down as October was transitioning into Barry Diller’s USA Films.

Endeavor and attorney Tom McGuire brokered the deal on behalf of Lynch and the Picture Factory.