Tasty titles tempt buyers

Jordan's 'Ondine' leads way for talent agency packaged offerings

In one of the first high-profile projects to coalesce during Cannes, Neil Jordan is in final negotiations to direct the mermaid tale "Ondine," with Colin Farrell in talks to star.

The movie, which Jordan will helm from his own script, is a passion project for the Irish director. It revolves around an Italian fisherman who discovers a woman he thinks is a mermaid but who may in fact be a prostitute.

The CAA-packaged project is one of a plethora of potentially hot titles being peddled or positioned for buyers here on the Croisette.

While specialty distributors chase after the prestige films playing in the various official screenings slots, there is another, more commercially crucial dealmaking derby for movies in various stages of development.

The first weekend of the fest and days beyond will witness a fevered series of meetings that could yield notable, and financially sizable, distribution deals for the U.S. market.

Most of the big U.S. talent agencies and sales reps are hawking titles: CAA alone is repping more than 20 of them. Away from the screening halls, in hotel rooms and offices in and around the Croisette, prospective buyers have been showing up to hear sales pitches or watch footage in a film-festival equivalent of a retail sales call.

In addition to "Ondine," there are a number of projects with potential across multiple territories on offer, and they could command high prices as the fest unfolds. Among them:

>"Me & Orson Welles": Richard Linklater is the quintessential indie director, but he's also a helmer with studio gigs under his belt. His latest project, about a teenager cast in a Shakespearean production directed by Welles, could pique interest when footage of it screens today. If the premise sounds twee, there's this small detail: The teen in question is played by Zac Efron ("High School Musical").

>"I Love You Philip Morris": Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor as gay prison lovers who stage a jail break to reunite? This tale of passion, based on Steve McVicker's book, could be steaming up screens when CAA and Endeavor land a North American sale. >"The Human Contract": If you're trying to convince distributors you've got a saleable project, having the biggest movie star in the world making the case doesn't hurt. That's what producers will do Saturday night when they host a private reception with Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. Pinkett Smith directed and will star in the project, which takes a look at two characters leading different lives, one a corporate climber and the other a free spirit. Paz Vega, who also stars and produced, will amp up the star wattage.

>"The Other Man": The highbrow adultery thriller was high on many buyers' lists given how director/co-writer Richard Eyre churned up Sapphic suspense in "Notes on a Scandal." Liam Neeson plays a husband tracking down the lover of his wife (Laura Linney), only to develop a strange relationship with her Latin lothario (Antonio Banderas). ICM stirred up buzz on the film based on footage shown Friday.

>"The Burning Plain": Guillermo Arriaga's feature directorial debut, which stars Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger as a mother and daughter trying to reconnect, almost ended up In Competition. But the movie finished production a little late, and producers decided not to rush it in time for the festival. UTA is pushing it here and has the advantage of having an entire movie to show.

>"Islands in the Stream": WMA and Intandem have carefully laid out their plan of attack on the Tommy Lee Jones passion project. The pair was set to host a brunch with Jones on Sunday. The movie won't shoot until next spring, which means there'll be less to show buyers, but the later start date could prove attractive. (partialdiff)
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