Canal Plus will back quartet of indie pics

Studio strengthening film hand

CANNES — As part of its accelerated push into English-lingo projects, Studio Canal Plus will fully finance a new quartet of pics from American indie filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow, George Romero, John Waters and Abel Ferrara, with Joel and Ethan Coen contributing a revised version of their first pic, “Blood Simple.”

The company will sell the pics internationally. The move reflects the Canal Plus group’s desire to strengthen its film hand, to provide pics for its wide array of pay networks in Europe, to augment its film library and feed its sales pipeline.

Less than a year ago, Studio Canal Plus revamped its management team and brought in new execs to target investment in U.S. pics and English-language European projects.

The group is partnered with Warner Bros. in Steve Reuther’s Bel Air production shingle and is pacted with Pathe in the London-based lottery franchise production facility Pathe Pictures.

Canal Plus failed to buy Polygram Filmed Entertainment and is now in talks to take a stake in Working Title, alongside Universal (Daily Variety, May 10).

New hires

Since last summer, Studio Canal Plus topper Brahim Chioua has brought Manuel Chiche on board to identify U.S. pics in which the Gallic studio can invest. (Dominique Green was hired to target projects from the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and Northern Europe.)

Chiche has not let the grass grow under his feet.

Studio Canal Plus is fully financing Ferrara’s “R’Xmas” starring Forest Whitaker, Annabella Sciorra and John Leguizamo.

The crime thriller, which has just started shooting, is the story of a Dominican drug dealer who is kidnapped on Christmas Eve as he’s shopping for presents for his kids.

Big on ‘Bruiser’

Studio Canal Plus is also fully funding “Bruiser,” written and directed by Romero. The pic is a thriller about a loser facing a cheating wife who decides to take revenge on life. “Bruiser” is produced by Ben Barenholtz, and Gallic distrib Bac has French rights.

Once tapped to be repped on the international sales scene by UGC, John Waters’ “Cecil B Demented” is now part of the Studio Canal Plus lineup.

Waters announced the project three years ago at Cannes, but nothing more was heard about it. Now he’s set to shoot in Baltimore this summer.

‘Demented’ group

“Demented” is a comedy about a group of indie filmmakers who decide to kidnap a major star in order to make the ultimate indie movie.

Leading the cast is Melanie Griffith, alongside Stephen Dorff and Milla Jovovich. Talks continue for Liv Tyler to join the pic. Artisan has U.S. rights.

Studio Canal Plus is throwing its weight behind Bigelow’s “The Weight of Water,” which is currently casting. According to Chioua, the film follows two couples who take a boat trip to a Scandinavian island. One of the party is a journalist looking to investigate a murder that took place on the island a century before.

Rounding out the U.S. pics to which Studio Canal Plus has taken international rights is the new director’s cut of the Coens’ “Blood Simple.” The Coen brothers have cut four minutes from the pic, added a minute at the start and put in some new music. October Films is handling the U.S. release; Bac has French rights.

Green in high gear

Since she joined Studio Canal Plus in September, Green has been working overtime sorting out the company’s U.K. film production strategy, which was complicated by the decision from the French and Sony to wind down their production joint venture the Bridge.

Green has brought Studio Canal Plus into Sara Sugarman’s $6 million “Pavarotti in Dad’s Room,” starring Rachel Griffiths and Jonathan Pryce. Pic is produced by Dragon Pictures (“Welcome to Sarajevo”), in association with Studio Canal Plus and FilmFour. Sugarman’s second feature won the Sundance Filmmaker’s Award for best international script.

The film follows the friendship between a downtrodden 33-year-old woman and her 16-year-old friend who is dying of an incurable disease.

Casting is under way on Australian director Samantha Lang’s second feature, “The Monkey’s Mask,” which Studio Canal Plus is backing. Lang’s debut pic “The Well” was a 1997 competition entry in Cannes.

Lang’s latest pic centers on a lesbian private detective who falls in love with a woman suspected of being involved in a missing persons case.