Fest sees done deals

Mart attendance up as auteurs announce titles

The Cannes Film Festival has ratcheted into full gear, though it took a bit longer to gather steam this year because of logistics problems due to the transit strike and SARS.

Although acquisition buzz on fest films is muted, slates must be filled worldwide, and plenty of high-profile projects were announced in the fest’s first few days.

Chinese and Thai attendance at the Cannes Film Market has fallen 50%, with South Korean participants down 36%, due to the SARS epidemic.

However overall attendance is up slightly this year, with some 6,684 participants registered compared with 6,162 at the same time last year, the mart said.

The U.K. has seen a significant increase in attendance, with figures topping 1,000 for the first time. The number of British films went up by 54% from 170 last year to 262 this year. Attendance has also increased from other territories including Germany, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa , the Czech Republic, Hungary and Luxembourg.

The market also reports an increase in the number of films being sold — 2,429 over 1,978 last year, an increase of more than 20 %. U.S. films in the market are up a modest 6%.

The world’s top auteurs traditionally use Cannes to announce their latest projects, with several already unveiled. Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, Neil LaBute, Bruce Beresford and Istvan Szabo are among the helmers with projects set for production.

Scorcese’s Howard Hughes biopic “The Aviator,” co-financed by Warner Brothers, Miramax and Initial, goes into production this summer starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Shochiku was one of the first territories to bite on the mega-budgeted biopic produced by DiCaprio’s Appian Way shingle.

British sales outfits are leading the way in financing prestige specialty pics — Capitol is providing coin for Altman’s “Ultraviolet,” while Renaissance will produce LaBute’s “Vapor,” to star Sandra Bullock and Ralph Fiennes.

Beresford’s “Miss Potter,” on the other hand, while it tells the tale of British children’s author Beatrix Potter, will be financed by Mike Medavoy’s Phoenix Pictures. Cate Blanchett is set to star as the popular Victorian scribe.

Euro companies are hot on entering the English-language production game.

Filmax announced Brad Anderson (“Next Stop Wonderland”) will direct “The Machinist” with Jennifer Jason Leigh and Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, as well as a Jaume Balaguero-helmed English pic.

Also up from Filmax is a 12-picture slate of English language horror telefilms, called “Movies Which Won’t Let You Sleep,” to be helmed by several up-and-coming Spanish directors.

Pick-ups are percolating, although official fest selections are not the prime sources. Among the major deals at the fest’s mid-point:

  • Disney picked up North America, U.K., Australia and New Zealand distribution rights to “Emperor Zehnder,” to starring Richard Gere, from National Geographic Feature Films and Hyde Park Entertainment.

  • United Artists closed a deal with Ed Pressman’s ContentFilm for David Gordon Green’s “The Undertow.” Pic starring Dermot Mulroney, Josh Lucas and Jamie Bell was acquired for North America, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America and South Africa.

  • Sony Pictures Classics took U.S. and other key English language territories on Istvan Szabo’s “Being Julia,” with Annette Bening and Jeremy Irons. Sony also picked up Gallic titles “Bon Voyage” and “Mr. Ibrahim.”

  • Miramax has picked up North American rights to Russell Mulcahy’s action adventure pic “Escape” from Davis Panzer Prods.

  • MGM, distributor of the first “Jeepers Creepers,” will distribute the sequel in the U.S., and has also picked up Japan, Italy, France and Australia for the American Zoetrope horror title. “Jeepers Creepers 2” will be released by Kinowelt in Germany, Pathe in the U.K. and Filmax in Spain.

(Adam Dawtrey, Cathy Dunkley, David Rooney, John Hopewell and Alison James contributed to this story. )

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