By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood May 13, 2009 at 4:23AM
At a time when other distribs are treading cautiously, steady Cannes buyer Sony Pictures Classics bets on their own taste and gut instinct for what they can achieve in the marketplace. They don't always wait to see how a film will play at a festival, and try not to overpay (although they get clipped every now and then). They're still betting on theatrical releases like the James Toback doc Tyson, which they bought out of Cannes last year, and the Israeli animated Oscar-contender Waltz with Bashir. "We're thinking long-term," says co-president Michael Barker, who came into Cannes with Pedro Almodovar's Broken Embraces, which is set for a pre-Thanksgiving November release. "It's the fifth one we committed to at the script stage. There are fewer quality films, so it's in our interest to get involved early. It's harder to find films at these festivals than it used to be."
This year they got busy ahead of the fest. On opening day of the 62nd Cannes the venerable studio indie announced that it was taking off the table the North American rights to two sought-after fest titles. They bought their second film with Cache director Michael Haneke, his fifth Cannes competition entry The White Ribbon, a pre-World War I story set in a German village that is disturbed by inexplicable events. A co-production between X-Filme Creative Pool in Germany, Les Films du Losange in France, Wega Film in Austria and Lucky Red in Italy, The White Ribbon was produced by Haneke regular Margaret Menegoz and Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka and Michael Katz.
Clearly, SPC is also in love with Coco Chanel. They now have two films about her, which they will space out appropriately. The first set for a fall release, Anne Fontaine's Coco Avant Chanel, stars Audrey Tautou and just opened in Paris. SPC also acquired all rights from Wild Bunch for U.S. and English-speaking Canada to French filmmaker Jan Kounen's Cannes closing night film, Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, a Paris romance set in the 1920s between the fashion icon and the composer based on the book Coco and Igor by Chris Greenhalgh. Chanel model Anna Mouglalis and Danish star Mads Mikkelsen star in the film produced by Claudie Ossard (Amelie) and Chris Bolzli. SPC worked with Wild Bunch on Woody Allen's upcoming June 21 release Whatever Works.
One reason SPC does so well at Cannes is that they also have an auteurist bent. They'll be front and center checking out the new Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank), Alejandro Amenabar's Agora, Ken Loach's Looking for Eric, the Alain Resnais (Wild Grass) and the new Mike Leigh (in pre-production) in the market. "More people have to think long-term, it's difficult," says Barker. "It's easy to think short-term. But it's how we've been doing it all along."