UA captures Cannes prize winner ‘Osama’

Swipe Films sold Afghan drama at fest

CANNES — United Artists has acquired North American rights to “Osama,” which premiered in the Directors Fortnight at Cannes and marks the first feature from Afghanistan since the rise and fall of the Taliban regime.

Directed by Siddiq Barmak, the tragic story of religious extremism and misogyny in the Taliban-controlled state concerns a young girl forced to disguise herself as a boy and sent to work to support her family until her discovery by the regime brings horrific consequences.

One of the most warmly received selections of the Directors Fortnight, the film scored a special mention from the Camera d’Or jury as well as the fest’s Youth Jury prize.

Barmak produced with Julie LeBrocquy and Julia Fraser. Pic is a co-production of the director’s Barmak Films with NHK Japan and LeBrocquy Fraser Prods. of Ireland.

Cast consists entirely of non-professional actors, including 12-year-old lead Marina Golbahari, whom the director found begging on the streets of Kabul.

Deal was announced by United Artists president Bingham Ray and negotiated for the company by senior VP of acquisitions and production Sara Rose, VP of acquisitions Jack Turner and acquisitions manager Lindsay Crain. Frank Mannion of Swipe Films in London represented the filmmakers.

“The acquisition of ‘Osama’ demonstrates the commitment and passion we have here at United Artists to bring entertaining, challenging and distinctive films to the widest possible audience, no matter where they hail from,” Rose said.

Added Barmak: “I am very proud to be working with the wonderful people at United Artists on this film, who did such an amazing job with my friend Danis Tanovic’s film ‘No Man’s Land.’ ”

Barmak acted as cultural attache to Ahmed Shah Massoud, Afghanistan’s national hero, who led resistance first to the Soviet invasion and then to the Taliban. Barmak currently heads the Afghan Film Organization and the Afghan Children’s Education Movement; his previous work was confiscated by the Taliban as part of the campaign to rid the country of any perceived revolutionary elements.

Swipe Films sold the Afghan drama widely in Cannes; that included a joint acquisition deal with an alliance of arthouse buyers covering France, Italy, Switzerland and Benelux.

“Less than 40 films have been made in the history of Afghanistan,” Mannion commented. “The film represents a new renaissance for Afghan cinema and the emergence of a true visionary talent in Siddiq Barmak.”

“Osama” reps one of the few previously unsold official selections this year in Cannes to land a U.S. distribution deal, making this an uncommonly slow edition of the fest for market activity.

Other titles sold were Lars von Trier’s competition entry “Dogville,” starring Nicole Kidman, which went to Lions Gate; Canadian Denys Arcand’s French-language competish entry “The Barbarian Invasions,” picked up by Miramax; and Australian director Sue Brooks’ “Japanese Story,” with Toni Collette, picked up by Samuel Goldwyn Films out of the Un Certain Regard sidebar.

Also during Cannes, United Artists closed a deal with ContentFilm for rights in North America, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America and South Africa to David Gordon Green’s provisionally titled “The Undertow,” which wrapped shooting this month with Dermot Mulroney, Josh Lucas and Jamie Bell.

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