Star wave crests at AFM

Brisk sales expected at seaside indie film market

What do such stars as Richard Gere, Marcia Gay Harden, Antonio Banderas, Emily Watson, Liv Tyler, Laurence Fishburne, John Hurt, Tim Roth and Michael Caine have in common? They're all newly attached to star in a slew of features up for presale at the American Film Market, which opens today in Santa Monica.

The eight-day market will attract about 8,000 buyers and sellers, including 430 exhibitors with booths, and given the high quality of recent indie pics and the much weakened dollar, deals for rights to American films are expected to be brisk.

And because there is mounting fear in Hollywood and abroad that U.S. writers -- and come next summer actors -- could go out on strike, buyers of English-language product are likely to be especially anxious to wrap up deals.

Among the actors and filmmakers being newly touted by sellers as circling or in some cases signed on to some key projects:

-- Gere is attached to star in "The Prodigy," based on the true story of a young mathematical genius. The actor will play the genius' father in the drama, set to be directed by Ericson Core, written by John Romano and produced by Larry Brezner, Scott Kroopf and Intermedia Films. IM Global is handling presales on the $25 million film, set to shoot in January.

-- Harden will play the wife of Christopher Walken in Peter Hewitt's comedy "The Lonely Maiden" opposite Morgan Freeman and William H. Macy. Mike LeSieur wrote the screenplay, which is being produced by Freeman, Lori McCreary, Rob Paris and Bob Yari. The "Full Monty"-style film features the three actors as museum guards who decide to steal the eponymous work of art. Walken's character changes from obsessing over the art to learning the true value of his wife. Yari Film Group is handling presales.

-- Jordana Brewster will star opposite Simon Baker in Dror Soref's supernatural thriller "Not Forgotten." Brewster plays the second wife of Baker's character, who is haunted by the disappearance of the daughter from his first marriage. The two consult a mystic, and secrets emerge that both would rather remain buried. Donald Zuckerman and Soref are producing with executive producers Kirk D'Amico of Myriad Pictures, Michelle Seward and Dennis Murphy. Myriad is repping AFM sales rights.

-- Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Hurt and Roth are attached to star in "44 Inch Chest" for producers Steve Golin and Richard Brown. The darkly comic screenplay by Louis Mellis and David Scinto follows a motley crew of British gangsters in what's being described as a "Reservoir Dogs"-style tale of love and revenge. Malcolm Venville is attached to direct, and IM Global is repping AFM sales.

-- "Fellini Black & White" has an all-star cast attached, including Banderas, Watson, Tyler, Fishburne and Peter Dinklage. The film follows the famed director Federico Fellini on a two-day trip to Los Angeles to accept an award. Henry Bromell is attached to write and direct the film for producers Andrew Lazar and Yari. Watson is attached to play his wife Giulietta Massina, and Tyler, Fishburne and Dinklage play denizens the director views in his trademark Fellini-esque way. Yari is handling presales.

-- Caroline Dhavernas will star opposite Julia Stiles and Paddy Considine in Jamie Thraves' adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel "Cry of the Owl." She plays the ex-wife of a man out for revenge on the woman (Stiles) who dumped him. Dhavernas recently appeared in "Breach" and "Hollywoodland." Myriad is repping AFM sales.

-- Caine is set to play a magician who moves into an old-age home in "Is There Anybody There?" an odd-couple British drama from production shingles Heyday Pictures and Big Beach along with BBC Films. John Crowley ("Boy A") is directing the pic, set in a British coastal town in the 1980s. David Heyman will produce for Heyday; Marc Turtletaub and Peter Saraf will produce for Big Beach, while Jeb Brody will exec produce the project, for which Odyssey Entertainment is handling international rights.

The attached actors in most cases have not signed contracts yet, but their star power brings anxious sales agents hope for some hot AFM sales.

Steven Zeitchik in New York contributed to this report.