Berlusconi’s Roller-Coaster Week
Italy: Last week offered some big plot twists in the ongoing saga of Silvio Berlusconi, who was sentenced to jail just a few days after sealing an important and strategic deal for his Italian pay-TV service.
Politics makes strange bedfellows, and no one has found stranger or more diverse ones than Berlusconi. So maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that he has linked up with his longtime rival Rupert Murdoch. The two are united by a common effort to counter the possible arrival in Italy of Al Jazeera.
Berlusconi’s Mediaset Premium sealed a deal July 29 to carry Murdoch’s Fox Sports, including live British, French and Spanish top-league soccer — a crucial boost to Mediaset’s offerings in the wildly popular sport. The implication of the pact is that Mediaset and Murdoch’s Sky Italia paybox, which have been at each other’s throats for years, have reached a truce, at least until 2015, when Italy’s Serie-A soccer rights go up for auction again. Currently, Sky Italia has the satellite rights to Serie-A, while Mediaset has the digital rights — a cozy split.
Their mutual antagonist is Qatar-based Al Jazeera, which has snapped up soccer rights in France and Spain, and is reportedly eyeing Italo rights as it ramps up its global sports offerings.
The Fox Sports pact was signed as Berlusconi, 76, awaited a verdict in his highly sensitive Mediaset tax fraud case. The decision from the fi ve-judge appeals court arrived Aug. 1, when he was found guilty and sentenced to a year in prison. However, it’s unlikely he will serve time, due to his age. The charges were a black eye for the exec, whose antics are a media magnet. But to the business world, it’s all about bottom line. Many are doubtful that the legal woes would have an immediate impact on his Mediaset TV empire, as long as the company keeps making savvy deals like the one with Murdoch.
— Nick Vivarelli
Euros Target China Links
Denmark: Hollywood fi lm execs aren’t the only ones with Chinese stars in their eyes … the Scandinavians seem to have suddenly discovered the country as well.
Zentropa, the Danish production shingle co-founded by Lars von Trier, is prepping to launch Zentropa China, in partnership with a local player whose name the partners will reveal in September or October. The new banner will produce films primarily for the Chinese market, said Rikke Ennis, CEO of Trust-Nordisk, Zentropa’s international sales/distribution vehicle.
The first pic on Zentropa China’s slate is a romantic comedy in the vein of “Ugly Betty,” centering on a young Chinese girl who gets a scholarship to attend college in Denmark, where she writes a thesis on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. The pic will have a Chinese director.
Co-producing with China presents various incentives, allowing foreign players to tap into China’s booming theatrical and VOD markets and bypass its revenue-sharing import quotas.
Although TrustNordisk has never had success in the territory, Ennis said that Chinese audiences know Danish films quite well. “They know the talents we have here. Plus they’re fond of Hans Christian Andersen’s literature,” he maintained. “There’s room for us to thrive in China, as we have a good track record at delivering reasonably budgeted romantic comedies with good concepts and characters that have a mainstream appeal.”
Zentropa, the production outfit behind such pics as “A Royal Affair” and the Mads Mikkelsen drama “The Hunt,” follows other Euro companies into the territory. In June, Paris-based super-indie Wild Bunch bowed a joint venture with Taihe Pictures, a Beijing-based sales and distribution company, to produce Chinese films, including remakes of Wild Bunch properties, and handle international sales and distribution.
At Cannes, Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp announced a deal with Mark Gao’s Fundamental Films to team on the production of a new “Transporter” trilogy. On top of co-producing, Fundamental Films will distribute in China and act as an equity investor on the pics. Another leading European producer, Pierre-Ange Le Pogam at Paris-based Stone Angels, has joined forces with Bruno Wu at China’s Seven Stars to form Angel Storm, an outfit dedicated to producing action thrillers.
— Elsa Keslassy
All ‘Alan,’ All the Time
United Kingdom: Move over, Prince George. In the buildup to the Aug. 7 bow of Studiocanal release “Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa,” the media has latched onto a new hero of the moment. Coverage of the fictional radio deejay has branched out into news segments, op-ed pieces, politics, travel and sports. Studiocanal preemed the pic in Norwich (the hometown of the faux celeb) and London on July 24. That choice alone was deemed newsworthy by all the key news channels in the country, which covered both events.
Since then, the distrib has counted 10 features on TV news channels and 15 prime radio interviews/news stories. Magazines and broadsheets have contributed 23 major pieces. The print media across the country has been exploring the cultural relevance to Brit society of the character — a minor celeb who’s self-important and courts constant attention, ignoring others’ sensitivities and needs — since his inception more than 20 years ago.
In addition, BBC, London paper Metro and the regional press covered a campaign in Norwich to name a lifesize gorilla sculpture after Partridge; Esquire offered “5 Brilliant Ways Alan Partridge Was Sold to Us”; and the travel section of the Daily Mail, which has the most traffic of any website in the world, covered his walking tour of Norwich, in association with tourist outfit VisitNorwich.
The character, created by Steve Coogan (who stars as Partridge) and Armando Iannucci, is inescapable in Britain these days. Posters are everywhere, and even sports addicts have been exposed to the mania, when Arsenal soccer player Lukas Podolski proved a hit on the team’s tour of Asia after an inadvertently spot-on impersonation of Partridge’s catchphrase, “A-ha.”
Naturally, Coogan, who appeared on the red carpet of the pic preems in character, got plenty of coverage. And aside from doing studio interviews with Channel 4, Iannucci appeared on the political program “The Andrew Marr Show.”
And, as a reminder that no one is immune to a contagious fever, Partridge appears in no fewer than two stories in Variety this week. Obviously, no one likes a media hound like the media.
— Diana Lodderhose
Country Makes Oscar Comeback
Pakistan: Pakistan will submit an entry to Oscar’s foreign-language category after a gap of 50 years, though the committee has not yet chosen the film.
Each country is allowed one submission and can decide how that film can be chosen.
The Pakistan committee has been formed independently, and no approval was sought from the government, since it is not required by the Academy. The deadline for submitting a foreign-language film to the Academy is Oct. 1.
Chairing the committee is Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, pictured above, who became the country’s first Oscar winner for co-directing (with Daniel Junge) the 2011 documentary short subject “Saving Face.” Also on the panel are writer Mohsin Hamid (“The Reluctant Fundamentalist”), helmer Mehreen Jabbar (“Ramchand Pakistani”), actor Rahat Kazmi, filmmaker Akifa Mian (“Inaam”), hyphenate Samina Peerzada (“Inteha”) and arts academic Framji Minwalla.
They will have plenty to choose from, as after a few dormant years, the Pakistan film industry is enjoying a revival, with 21 releases in 2013.
There is no stated government policy against Oscar participation. But it seems to have been a low national priority, due to political turmoil and a general lack of precedence within the film establishment.
The country has sent only two films to the Academy since the category was created in 1956: Akhtar J. Kardar’s “Jago hua savera” in 1959 and Khawaja Khurshid Anwar’s “Ghunghat” in 1963.
British-Pakistani helmer Hammad Khan, whose debut feature “Slackistan” was banned in Pakistan, told Variety this week: “Pakistan has not officially submitted any films for the Academy Awards consideration in 50 years because the state has never taken film seriously, neither as a cultural art form nor as a valuable communal experience. In all those years, Pakistan has been so preoccupied with coups, wars and religion that cinema has been reduced to low entertainment by the powers-that-be. It is, of course, monumentally idiotic to ignore the power of cinema in the development of any nation’s narrative.”
— Naman Ramachandran