Fox offers local-language films

International arm unveils foreign fare lineups

Fox Intl. Prods. has unveiled its slate of local-language projects set into motion after the unit launched last May.

FIP is run by Sanford Panitch, a former exec veep of production at Fox and prexy of filmed entertainment at New Regency.

The titles stretch from Europe to the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.

Asia features prominently in the lineup: The movie production, distribution and marketing pact inked with satcaster Star to form joint venture Fox Star Studios last September is already bearing fruit.

In India, where Fox inked a two-picture deal with local producer Vipul Amrutlal Shah last October, the studio is prepping romantic laffer “Pyar ka U-turn.” The project will be the first fully homegrown Indian project to come through Fox Star Studios.

Fox is also developing a Hindi-language reimagining of Anne Hathaway starrer “Bride Wars,” this time centered around two warring families.

Shrishti Behl, who produced 2008 Indian pic “Drona,” will produce for Fox. The project is set to go into production this year.

In Japan, Fox Intl. recently wrapped a local-language remake of “Sideways” with Fuji TV, the largest TV network in Japan and also its most successful film producer.

Through its partnership with leading local producer Bong Ou Lee’s shingle Cine Qua Non Films, the studio is developing a feature adaptation of Japanese bestseller “The Elephant That Makes Dreams Come True,” which sold 2 million copies in Japan in 2008.

Lee will produce the project, about the intersecting lives of four people who see the figure of an advice-giving elephant, with Japanese helmer George Matsuoka on board to direct.

Fox is also working with Lee on a sequel to the 2006 Japanese hit “Hula Girls,” about a group of young women in a small town who try to revive their home’s declining fortunes by building a Hawaiian village tourist attraction.

In Russia, FIP has projects with the producers of 12 of the 20 top grossing Russian films of all time. The studio is working with producer Igor Tolstunov and shooting “Chuzhaya” a 1980s-set gangster film.

In Brazil, Panitch has linked up with Total Films, the producers of romantic laffer “If I Were You 2,” which recently became the highest-grossing Brazilian film of all time and was co-financed by Fox Brazil, to develop a number of Portuguese-language features.

The studio also has dipped its toes into the Middle East, where it is developing Arabic-language feature “Samba.”

Story concerns a Moroccan man, obsessed with a Brazilian telenovela star, who teaches a samba class; his students are a host of doting young femmes all eager to win his heart.

Moroccan filmmaker Hicham Ayouch is writing and directing, with former BBC Films topper David Thompson co-producing with Fox.

The multilingual approach to “Samba” is an indication of Fox’s globe-spanning strategy. Ayouch is writing the project’s screenplay in French, which will then be translated into Arabic along with a significant portion of Portuguese dialogue.

“We’re trying to produce local-language films all over the world,” Panitch told Daily Variety. “We’re using the synergy between our distribution operations in all of these territories to tie up with the local production division. There is a shift in the market toward local content. It validates what we’re trying to achieve with these projects.”

While the international box office has become increasingly important to the studios, often outgrossing domestic cumes, there has also been a notable rise in auds’ consumption of local fare.

Last year, local Gallic laffer “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis” only narrowly missed out on toppling “Titanic” as the all-time French box office champ.

“If I Were You 2” recently grossed some $20 million in Brazil.

“That’s a phenomenal figure for a Portuguese-language film,” Panitch said. “When you have those kind of numbers, or in countries such as China and India, that’s big enough to stand on its own merits. You can make a film work in just one market when you have that scale. Plus we have the infrastructure and people in our distribution and marketing network who can help a film travel.”

It isn’t just in emerging markets that Fox has been developing relationships.

The studio has hired development execs across Europe and is exploring production opportunities in Italy and Spain. It is also in advanced talks regarding a multipicture deal with a major French company.

And while the studio’s strategy is focused on ensuring the local-language projects work first and foremost in their home territories, Fox execs are aware of the crossover potential of any number of international filmmakers with whom they’re working.

The studio distribbed Russian helmer Timur Bekmambetov’s Russian-language “Night Watch” series. The helmer went on to direct the Angelina Jolie starrer “Wanted.”

“We’re finding talent at an embryonic stage,” Panitch said. “Some of the most exciting filmmakers now are in the international arena. Look at Alfonso Cuaron or Guillermo del Toro. They think nothing of switching between Spanish or English projects. The modern director today makes good films in any language.”