Berlin Dealbook: Godard, Holland, Bobby Fischer, Wong Kar Wai, Black Power Mixtape, Herzog's Next

by Sophia Savage
February 15, 2011 8:30 AM
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Thompson on Hollywood

Julie Bertuccelli's The Tree, with Charlotte Gainsbourg, has gone to Zeitgeist Films for a NY and LA summer debut to be followed by national distribution. The film was Cannes' closing night feature. Set in Queensland, Australia, the film is based on Judy Pascoe's book Our Father Who Art in the Tree, which follows the recently windowed Dawn and her four children, who express their grief in different ways. One of the widow's daughters believes her late father's spirit in in a huge Moreton Bay Fig tree in the family yard. When Dawn meets a new man, the tree begins to threaten the family's future.

Thompson on Hollywood

Another Cannes entry, Jean-Luc Godard's Film Socialisme (pictured), will be released stateside by Kino Lorber. A tentative release is slated for May. The film stars Patti Smith, Elisabeth Vitali, Alain Badiou, Christian Sinniger, Louma Sanbar and Maurice Sarfati. According to indieWIRE critic Eric Kohn, the film "is a highly fragmented piece that moves between several locales and situations with no easy guide to help sort through the mess. American viewers are abruptly distanced from the movie because Godard chose to subtitle the movie in ‘American Navajo,’ a made-up lyrical abstraction of the French dialogue.”

North American rights to Wong Kar Wai's currently filming The Grandmasters were won by Megan Ellison's Annapurna Productions, which is also committing significant finances to market the film, which stars Tony Leung as Ip Man, the renowned martial artist -- and teacher of Bruce Lee. Wong screened ten minutes of the film, which also stars Zhang Ziyi and Chang Chen, The Weinstein Co., Fox Searchlight, Sony Pictures Classics and Focus Features were also vying for the rights. Ellison also executive produced True Grit and is a producer on the upcoming John Hillcoat film, The Wettest Country in the World.

Sony Pictures Classics has acquired all U.S. rights to Agnieszka Holland's World War II Holocaust drama In Darkness, which was adapted by David F. Shamoon and Robert Wieckiewicz from Robert Marshall's memoir In the Sewers of Ivov. The film is about "how fine the line is between the best and the worst of human nature," says Holland. The film stars Benno Fürmann, Maria Schrader and Herbert Knaup. The film is a co-production of The Film Works, Schmidtz Katze Filmkollektiv and Zebra Films. Here's the synopsis:

In In Darkness, it is 1943, the Polish town of Lvov is occupied by the Nazis. Poverty grows. One day the selfish thief and burglar Leopold Socha encounters a group of Jewish refugees – and hides them for money in the labyrinth of the town’s sewers. At first only interested in lucrative business the whole thing reaches more and more Socha’s conscience. The Polish small-time crook makes up his mind and finally risks his own life for the refugees.

The pre-World War II drama The Treehouse has signed Jeremy Irons, Kim Catrall and Tom Sturridge to star. The House of Film production brings on Lajos Koltai (Being Julia cinematographer, Evening director) to helm a script by Paul Mayersberg (The Last Samurai). Set in pre-war Germany, the story centers on a revealing diary that causes rifts between a student, his sophisticated cousin and her parents.

Sundance doc Bobby Fischer Against The World, directed by Liz Garbus, has landed a theatrical release via Music Box late this spring, following its HBO premiere. Music Box has complete U.S. theatrical, DVD and digital rights. This first look at chess prodigy Bobby Fischer, his genius and his madness includes rare archival footage and interviews. Music Box's Ed Arentz and Bill Schopf say the film is "the definitive movie on Bobby Fischer and we are proud that it is our first documentary film that we are releasing.”

Thompson on Hollywood

Sundance Selects scored North American rights to Göran Hugo Olsson’s The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, a documentary about Swedish journalists who came to America to film the emergence of the Black Power movement. Jonathan Sehring, Sundance Selects/IFC Films President, says that it “is riveting and emotional to go back in time to see a major part of our recent history. This is an essential film that we look forward to bringing to a large audience.” Olsson says: "I’m just happy. We have important subject matter that comes with a responsibility to handle it with love and respect, and that is what happening now.”

North American, Australian and New Zealand rights to documentary How Much Does Your Building Weigh Mr. Foster? have gone to Arthouse Films. Filmmakers Carlos Carcas and Norberto Lopez Amado looked at architect Norman Foster's history, philosophy and influence. His designs range from the Hearst Building in NYC to the Beijing Airport. Arthouse is also the distributor behind Oscar nominated documentary Waste Land.

French animation artist Guillaume Ivernel will direct 3-D animated sci-fi thriller Soul Man. Denis Auboyer's CMC is backing the $45-million English-language production. Paris-based Blacklight Movies (founded by Ivernel and Francois Belot) is producing, and CMC's Digimage Cinema as well as Piste Rouge and Mad Light are working together to create a six-minute preview. Soul Man, set in an alternate universe, is about a former Polish detective who is wrapped up in a huge biotech deal which involves a baby girl who he is tasked to look after. Valerie Hadida is designing the characters from Ivernel's concepts. He describes the film's universe as "in the vein of 1970's black action pics, with a sci-fi beat…The characters and decors are very colorful, with soul and funk music playing a big part in the film…But the story has a much darker undertone aimed at an audience of teenagers and adults." Blacklight intends on making a franchise out of Soul Man, complete with videogames, and they are targeting recognized Hollywood voices to bring their characters to life.

Thompson on Hollywood

Not a deal but a taste of things to come, Werner Herzog has decided "to work and not celebrate" the Berlinale screening of his Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The work he chose is his upcoming film on American death row inmates. He tells Screen Daily that his current project resonates with Cave: "Of course, it fascinates me to look into deep abysses of the human soul. Left and right, wherever you look, there is an abyss…It is in a way not dissimilar to what I have done in Cave Of Forgotten Dreams, [where] I am looking, historically speaking, into an abyss of 35,000 years.”

Herzog looks at four men and one woman waiting to be executed. Four are in prison in Texas, one in Florida. On how he deals with the inmates: “I am a complete straight-shooter. You have to be, because they would smell the dead rat miles away.” He adds: “I am not in the business of guilt or innocence. My focus is elsewhere," and he sticks to his belief that with his filmmaking he is "looking for something where you look deep into the human soul — something you can only experience almost like a religious ecstasy. Those are the rare moments I am after.” He is making the documentary, titled Death Row, for Investigation Discovery and is discussing TV distribution deals.

In a non-fest-related deal, Paladin will release Malcolm Mowbray's Meeting Spencer, a farce starring Jeffrey Tambor as a theater director who's seen better days who tries to raise funds for a comeback production. Written by Andrew Kole, Andrew Delaplace and Scott Kasdin, Meeting Spencer will open in NYC on April 8. The film is "downright funny, boasting the sort of snappy dialog and stylish visuals that are a rarity among independent films," says Paladin president Mark Urman.

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