Lions Gate collars dogmatic ‘Dogville’

Company beats UA, Miramax, Artisan for deal

CANNES — Ending days of speculation over who would take the plunge with the Cannes fest’s most provocative and challenging entry, Lions Gate Films has paid in the region of $1.5 million to acquire North American distribution rights to Lars von Trier’s “Dogville.”

The deal was closed late Thursday evening in Cannes, with Lions Gate reportedly beating out rival bids from Paramount Classics, United Artists, Miramax and Artisan.

Fine Line also had been circling the Nicole Kidman starrer earlier this week, but no offer was known to have been made by the distrib, which had the inside track on the deal after handling von Trier’s previous pic, “Dancer in the Dark,” in the U.S.

Distribs generally were understood to be nervous about the marketing challenges represented by the demanding drama.

Pic is the first Cannes competition entry nabbed for U.S. distribution during the fest. Australian drama “Japanese Story,” which bowed in Un Certain Regard, sold Wednesday to Samuel Goldwyn Films for North America. Lions Gate and other bidders are believed to be involved in negotiations for Brit pic “Young Adam,” also from Un Certain Regard.

Mixed reviews

“Dogville” premiered in the Cannes competition Monday to fiercely divided critical reaction, with some hailing the three-hour opus as an audacious masterpiece while others dismissed von Trier’s ideological attack on America as a work of inflated arrogance.

“Lars von Trier has crafted a brilliant, thought-provoking parable about tolerance, greed, trust and power, featuring a shattering performance by Nicole Kidman,” said Lions Gate president Tom Ortenberg. “And it is an honor to be working with one of this generation’s most gifted and influential film artists.”

The film also stars Paul Bettany, Lauren Bacall, Chloe Sevigny, Patricia Clarkson, Ben Gazzara, Philip Baker Hall, Stellan Skarsgard, Jeremy Davies, Harriet Anderson, Blair Brown and James Caan.

Unfolding on a bare soundstage with minimal props and scenery and told in nine chapters and a prologue, the story centers on a beautiful fugitive, played by Kidman, who seeks shelter in an isolated Rocky Mountains town-ship during the Depression. The demands of the locals in exchange for harboring her gradually spiral out of control, with devastating results.

Palme d’Or frontrunner

“Dogville” is considered among the frontrunners for this year’s Palme d’Or in Cannes, which would be the director’s second triumph at the fest after he took the top prize in 2000 with “Dancer in the Dark.” Previously, von Trier won the Cannes Grand Jury Prize for “Breaking the Waves” as well as the Grand Prix Technique and Jury Prize for “Europa.”

The new film is part of a planned trilogy on America, due to continue next with “Mandalay.” Kidman has expressed interest in signing on to complete the trifecta.

“Dogville” was produced by von Trier’s Zentropa Entertainment company. Vibeke Windelov produced with Peter Aalbaek Jensen exec producing.

‘Perfect distributor’

Windelov called Lions Gate “the perfect distributor for our film. They are passionate, and will give ‘Dogville’ the focus necessary to bring it to its widest possible audience.”

While talk has circulated about a two-hour, 18-minute cut of the film for international theatrical distribution, Lions Gate confirmed it would release the original version, which clocked in at 178 minutes in Cannes. No release date has been set.

The deal was closed for Lions Gate by Ortenberg; Peter Block, president of home entertainment, acquisitions and new media; and VP of acquisitions Jason Constantine, with Trust Film Sales CEO Annakarin Strom and manager of legal and business affairs manager Kaspar Soager.

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