2nd acts at Cannes

New lives unfolding for fest regulars

When it comes to players in Cannes, yesterday’s grizzled veteran is today’s tyro tycoon.

Avi Lerner, once the shameless producer of exploitation pics like “Shark Attack,” spent Saturday night hunched over a table at the Croisette’s Felix restaurant with HBO chairman Chris Albrecht – just hours after Lerner closed a $10 million deal with Universal Pictures for North American rights to “The Black Dahlia.”

HBO Films and New Line Cinema spent two days launching their new joint venture, Picturehouse, headed by another old hand, Bob Berney.

And Harvey Weinstein has spent the last week doing his best to present WeinsteinCo. as the hottest new distrib in town, with daily announcements ranging from screening 20 minutes of Terry Gilliam’s “The Brothers Grimm” to promoting the Rolling Stones’ appearance at Giants Stadium.

The new shingle also distributed a catalog, one the size of an airline ticket. It contains listings for five of the company’s upcoming films, although the Weinsteins have not explained how they will pay to release them. However, financier Tarak Ben Ammar hinted heavily at a Saturday press conference that an announcement could come early in the week.

Still, a corporate launch can’t match the crackle of a buzz pic.

Some festival films have been well reviewed (top among them being Michael Haneke’s “Hidden,” starring Juliette Binoche), but this year lacks the kind of electrifying or polarizing movie provided by last year’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” or, before that, Vincent Gallo’s “The Brown Bunny.”

Early reaction to Mexico’s competish pic “Battle in Heaven” initially suggested that it might occupy the shock slot. However, it now takes more than a blowjob to get Cannes’ attention.

Woody Allen’s “Match Point” has drawn the most attention: Not only did it divide audiences, but it also drew gasps for its $7 distribution million domestic pricetag. Atom Egoyan’s “Where the Truth Lies” is likely destined for an NC-17 rating, but doesn’t have the critical support of Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” or Lars Von Trier’s “Dogville” that a distrib could exploit.

With Hollywood studios providing less of a presence, there have been fewer high-profile (read: expensive) hijinks. Last year, DreamWorks pushed “Shark Tale,” complete with the voice cast doing stunts at sea and Jeffrey Katzenberg daring willing Jack Black to jump from jagged rocks into the Hotel Du Cap’s pool.

This time around, we’ve got Paris Hilton promoting National Lampoon’s “Pledge This!”

“In years’ past, there has been more interest in the market, where interesting films would premiere and balance out the fest,” said Focus Features acquisitions head Jason Resnick.

So far, no one’s moved on Fragile Films’ romantic comedy “Click,” repped by Focus Intl., “The Proposition” starring Guy Pearce and Emily Watson, or Intandem’s Brian Jones biopic “Stoned,” the directorial bow of veteran UK producer Stephen Woolley.

A new edit of the Johnny Depp vehicle “The Libertine” made a quiet return to the marketplace through Odyssey Films. Laurence Dunmore’s pic made a disappointing debut at last year’s Toronto Intl. Film Festival.

Studio Canal offered a promo reel for David Lynch’s “Inland Empire,” as did Tony Bill’s “Flyboys,” a tale of WWI flying aces written and produced by Dean Devlin. Also on offer was “Half Light,” a Lakeshore Intl. thriller that reps the return of Demi Moore.

An exec at one studio subsid said it wasn’t hard to understand why buyers were disappointed.

“Besides the very tiny companies, (domestic distributors) do not buy foreign language films,” he said. “You come to the festival and it’s filled with foreign films that are also hardcore arthouse films. And there are three or four available English-language films, and not a single one has been received well.”

Among the deals that have been made is one by Killer Films and John Wells, who sealed a deal for Celluloid Dreams to take on foreign duties for Todd Haynes’ Bob Dylan-inspired biopic. It took three days of marathon negotiations, but it was key to the project’s survival after Paramount Pictures pulled its backing.

Meanwhile, helmer Michael Caton-Jones proved to be the very definition of flexibility in the promotion of his two most recent pics, “Shooting Dogs,” a drama about Rwandan genocide, and “Basic Instinct 2.”

“Shooting” makes its market bow at Renaissance Films and “BI2” the subject of a Sunday press conference that was expected to include a raft of unofficial Cannes’ ambassadors: starlet Sharon Stone and C2 producers Mario Kassar and Andy Vajna.