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Sawhney gives silent treatment

A bold venture to breathe new life into silent movies will make its bow April 21 at London’s Barbican Theater, before embarking on a world tour that includes the New York’s Lincoln Center, the Sydney Opera House and a large Hollywood venue.

Paul McCartney and Sting are among those due to attend the world premiere of Franz Osten‘s restored 1929 movie “A Throw of Dice,” with the London Symphony Orchestra playing a new score composed by world-music superstar Nitin Sawhney.

London-based producers Nadine Luque and Tim Pearse are hoping their concept of marrying a silent movie with hip 21st-century music will provide a viable model to bring many more silent classics back before a modern audience.

The live performances of “A Throw of Dice” are the prelude to a theatrical and DVD release of the movie with its new soundtrack.

There has already been the odd hiccup, however. Plans to unveil the movie at the Berlin Film Festival in February were canceled because Sawhney failed to finish his soundtrack in time.

“A Throw of Dice,” which has been restored by the British Film Institute, is regarded as one of the lost masterpieces of the silent era.

Directed by a German maverick who spent most of his career in India, it’s a kind of early Bollywood movie — hence the decision to involve Sawhney, a British Asian whose award-winning dance music is a unique fusion of Indian and Western influences, from Qawwali and raga to flamenco, jazz and electronica. He has also scored more than 25 movies, and is currently working on Mira Nair‘s “The Namesake” for Fox Searchlight.

“A Throw of Dice” is a love story drawn from the Mahabharata, about two kings who gamble for the love of a woman. Pic was little seen even in its own time, because silents were already being overtaken by talkies, and has not been in general release for more than 70 years.

Luque says she and Pearse originally thought of starting their experiment with a better-known movie — a Buster Keaton film, perhaps, with a soundtrack by Fatboy Slim.

But when they were introduced to “A Throw of Dice” by a BFI archivist who happened to be Sawhney’s cousin, they were struck by its contemporary style, shot in real locations and naturalistic acting, which they felt would be accessible to modern auds.

Luque, a former exec at Spain’s Lolafilms, persuaded Italian producer Dominico Procacci, with whom she is co-producing the Keira Knightley pic “Silk,” to bankroll the creation of the soundtrack.

The BFI will release the movie in the U.K., while Bollywood specialist Rapid Eye has picked it up for Germany. Paris-based Roissy Films is handling sales in other territories.

Meanwhile, live performances are booked in Amsterdam in June with the Metropole Orchestra, which also will play at the Lincoln Center show in early ’07. The L.A. Philharmonic will accompany the screening at the Hollywood Bowl, also in 2007. Other dates have been firmed as far afield as Beijing, Hong Kong, Seoul, Madrid, San Francisco, Hamburg and Melbourne.

Foreign players hear London calling

Undaunted by adverse exchange rates, uncertainty over tax breaks, fearsome house prices and the melting of the polar icecaps that would leave half the city under water, more and more international film players are crowding into London.

Paramount’s revamped specialty arm has hired Pathe exec Berenice Fugard to head up acquisitions in Blighty’s capital. French sales outfit Celluloid Dreams reportedly is talking to former FilmFour and Element X topper Janine Gold about opening a London office. Both Wild Bunch and Studio Canal are sniffing around for U.K. distribs to buy.

IDT Entertainment, the ambitious Hollywood arm of New Jersey telco IDT, has signaled that it wants its Anchor Bay homevid operation to move into the U.K. theatrical biz under new managing director Colin Lomax. Universal and Paramount are starting to staff up their new foreign theatrical divisions in London.

So there are lots of jobs available. The question is whether there’s enough talent, executive and creative, to go around.

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