Cannes Deals Wrap: Harvey Weinstein Leads U.S. Buying Surge

5:00 AM PST 05/29/2013 by Pamela McClintock
"Only Lovers Left Alive"

UPDATED: The Weinstein Co. (Stephen Frears' "Philomena," Reese Witherspoon's "Passengers") and IFC's Sundance Selects proved the busiest buyers at the international festival.

This story first appeared in the June 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The Cannes Film Festival isn’t known for U.S. acquisitions in the way Sundance and Toronto are, but this year proved an exception both for titles playing in the festival and for unfinished films shopped at the market. The busiest buyers were The Weinstein Co. and IFC Films’ theatrical/VOD label Sundance Selects. Tom Bernard and Michael Barker's Sony Pictures Classics, a perennial presence on the Croisette, picked up four high-profile titles that will vie in this year's awards race, while Entertainment One acquired U.S. rights to the biopic Diana, starring Naomi Watts as the doomed princess, after the film was screened to a tepid response.

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Flush from the successes of Django Unchained and Silver Linings Playbook, Harvey Weinstein kicked off the action by plunking down $6.5 million for U.S., Canadian and Spanish rights to Stephen Frears’ British drama Philomena, a likely awards contender starring Judi Dench. TWC made the deal with BBC Films after buyers were shown just seven minutes of footage.

Then, midway through Cannes, TWC struck a multimillion-dollar pact for U.S. rights to Passengers, a sci-fi romance epic directed by Brian Kirk (Game of Thrones) and starring Reese Witherspoon and Keanu Reeves. To boot, TWC committed to spending $25 million on marketing, a hefty sum in the independent world. Passengers, now in preproduction, presold around the world via Exclusive Media.

TWC's buying spree continued with Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s family film The Young and Prodigious Spivet. Similar to Philomena, the project sparked keen interest from a number of U.S. distributors after Gaumont showed 11 minutes of footage. Other TWC buys: U.S. right to Todd Haynes’ upcoming film Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Mia Wasikowska as lovers in the 1950s; and, in partnership with Relativity Media, domestic rights to Natalie Portman’s troubled Western Jane Got a Gun. TWC's Radius label also jumped in, picking up domestic rights to Reeves' directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi, as well as to Blue Ruin, which played in Director's Fortnight.

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The most prominent deals for films playing in competition or in other sections of the festival included Sony Pictures Classics’ $1 million acquisition of Asghar Farhadi’s The Past, for which Berenice Bejo won the festival’s top actress award. SPC also acquired Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, starring Tilda Swinton, and the Indian film The Lunchbox, which won the prestigious critics' week audience award. The indie distributor also snapped up U.S. distribution rights to the acclaimed documentary Jodorowosky's Dune.

"It was one of our most successful years in terms of acquisitions," says Bernard.

Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions paid north of $3 million for U.S. rights to Guillaume Canet’s thriller Blood Ties, starring Clive Owen, Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis and Billy Crudup.

“It was a stronger market for U.S. acquisitions than usual, especially for English-language acquisitions, which are usually more thin on the ground in Cannes,” says Howard Cohen of Roadside, which will release Blood Ties. Sundance Selects scooped up a handful of titles — including the two top winners of the festival, Japanese drama Like Father, Like Son and Palme d’Or victor Blue Is the Warmest Color, a French coming-of-age drama about two teenage girls caught up in a passionate affair.

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