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The big guns

High-art, high-rollers and high-grossers: a collection of indie's leading lights of the moment

Pedro Almodovar

His Hollywood reps at CAA must be grinding their teeth. Spain’s — no, make that the world’s — most commercially successful arthouse filmmaker seems less inclined than ever to depart from his mother tongue and make a Hollywood movie in English. After all, why should he? Almost uniquely among foreign-lingo auteurs, his films find language no barrier in reaching a genuine mass audience around the world. They even vie with English-speaking pics for Oscar nominations. After last year’s “Talk to Her,” he is now working on “Bad Education” with his regular partners at Focus Intl. and Sony Pictures Classics.

Bob Berney

Berney’s rep skyrocketed with “Memento” and, later, “My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding,” which led to his current post as president of 1-year-old Newmarket Films. He picked up current hit “Whale Rider,” ($5 million-plus B.O.) virtually without competition at Toronto last year, which underscored his use of gut instinct over focus groups. Currently Newmarket has no films in pipeline, but Venice and Toronto should change that. “I work closely with the director to take his or her vision for the film into the marketing,” says Berney. “I think that approach also has helped me to acquire other films.”

Colin Callender

Under the leadership of Brit exec Callender, HBO Films has become a force to be reckoned with in the specialized biz. While shy about their newfound indie cred, the cabler’s production division — with dedicated execs such as Maud Nadler and Keri Putnam — continues to seize the spotlight, after winning top prizes at both Sundance and Cannes for “American Splendor” and “Elephant.” Intelligent and producer-friendly Callender and crew are now the collaborators of choice for an increasing number of filmmakers (Bruce Beresford, Gus Van Sant, Mike Nichols, Sidney Lumet).

Albert Berger & Ron Yerxa

Producing duo behind Steven Soderbergh’s “King of the Hill” and Alexander Payne’s “Election” will finally see “Cold Mountain” — they optioned pic rights to the book six years ago — hit screens in December via Miramax. But they insist this big-budget foray doesn’t mean that they’ve turned their backs on smaller fare. “We prefer left-of-center, idiosyncratic films,” says Berger. “We’ve gone from freeloader to pro bono,” quips Yerxa. They continue their lit-based repertoire with upcoming “Bee Season” at Fox Searchlight and “Ice Harvest” at Focus, where their Bona Fide Prods. has a deal.

Mark Gill

Just named topper at Warner Bros.’ long-awaited classics division, Gill made his name at Miramax as the indie’s L.A. chief and marketing guru. With ambitions beyond marketing, Gill moved into a production post as prexy of Stratus Films last year. At Warner Independent Pictures, he aims to handle up to 10 films a year, a few of which would be acquisitions. Plans are to work with Warner-backed producers such as Section Eight and Killer Films on pics with budgets up to $20 million, as well as bring in intl. voices. “I’ve always been involved with foreign-language films from ‘Il Postino’ to ‘Life Is Beautiful’ to ‘Central Station.’ I think it’s important culturally to be involved in those films.”

Todd Haynes

He’s made a career out of testing the boundaries of cinematic expression, but it wasn’t until the past year that Haynes’ aesthetic struck a chord with a wider audience. “Far From Heaven,” which won multiple indie Spirit Awards and Oscar noms, paid homage to ’50s melodramas while adding a layer of emotional resonance. With original voices at a premium in today’s market, Haynes is not likely to go mainstream anytime soon. His next project, tentatively titled “I’m Not There: Suppositions on a Film Concerning Dylan,” will mark his sixth collaboration with producer Christine Vachon. Co-producer Brad Simpson describes it as “not a biopic but a cinematic meditation on Bob Dylan’s music and influence in the 1960s.” Haynes is writing the script in Portland, Ore., his adopted home of the past three years.

Graham King

One of indiedom’s highest-rollers in the foreign sales sphere, King has lately spent more time hands-on producing than working the overseas buyers. With a new head of sales minding the shop at his Initial Entertainment Group, the tough but affable Englishman is on set making Howard Hughes biopic “Aviator” with Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. “I found myself in a spot where I wanted to do ‘Aviator’ so badly, I was so passionate about that screenplay, that I had to get involved,” says King, who’s basically reteaming with the same players with whom he made “Gangs of New York.” (He sold the foreign rights.) Other pics in the Initial pipeline include Rebecca Miller’s “Rose and the Snake,” with Daniel Day-Lewis, and Lasse Hallstrom’s “An Unfinished Life,” with Robert Redford and Jennifer Lopez.

David Linde

A year after he orchestrated Good Machine’s transfer to U, Linde insists his and James Schamus’ newly retitled Focus Features is still an indie. “We’re making independently developed and produced movies,” he says, “it’s just busier and the stakes are higher.” Focus has certainly managed to make a mark in its first year, snagging three Oscars with “The Pianist” and sweeping the Independent Spirit Awards with “Far From Heaven.” Up next: “Sylvia,” “21 Grams,” and “Lost in Translation.” Focus Intl., meanwhile, racked up solid sales on films such as Radar’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

Peter Rice

Searchlight’s prexy is enjoying a particularly stellar year, scoring breakout spring-summer hits with two imports from his native U.K.: “Bend It Like Beckham” and “28 Days Later.” Long-considered the heir apparent to the Fox studio throne, Rice has remained true to the specialty label’s indie mandate by picking up Sundance fave “Thirteen,” while also backing bigger-budget prestige titles such as “In America” and Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers.”

John Sloss

Indie’s highest-profile dealmaker had another rockin’ year, making sales on the lion’s share of Sundance buzz pics (“The Station Agent,” “Pieces of April,” “Capturing the Friedmans”). Together with his team at Cinetic Media, the straightforward, shrewd Gotham fixture also continues to push his financing business to new heights: projects in the pipeline range in budget from $1 million to $50 million. “There’s never been a better time to be in the indie film business,” he says. “The studios are making simpler event pictures, leaving a big hole for the specialized companies.”

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