Tasty titles tempt Cannes buyers

Jordan’s ‘Ondine’ leads way for packaged offerings

CANNES -- 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 Irish 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 pics playing in the various official screenings slots, there is another, more commercially crucial dealmaking derby for as yet unmade 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 multi-territory potential on offer. While the list that follows is by no means exhaustive, the projects thereon stand out because of various elements, and 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, and his latest project, about a teenager cast in a Shakespearean production directed by Welles, could pique interest buyers when footage of it screens today. If the premise sounds twee, there's this small detail: The teenager in question is played by Zac Efron, the "High School Musical" heartthrob and a commercial hook for the all-important young demo. A further advantage: It's one of the few projects taken on in Cannes by John Sloss' Cinetic Media, which means the fest mainstay will be able to give it plenty of attention.

"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. A billboard of the stars locked in a cozy embrace outside the Grand helped lure buyers to international rep Europa's offices to see footage of the Glenn Ficarra-John Requa movie on Thursday.

"The Human Contract" -- If you're trying to convince distribs 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 very 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, (played by "Kinsey" co-star Laura Linney), only to develop a strange relationship with her Latin lothario (Antonio Banderas). ICM stirred up good buzz on the film based on footage shown Friday morning with buyers hungry for an artier version of "Fatal Attraction."

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

"Islands in the Stream" -- William Morris and Intandem have carefully laid out their plan of attack on the Tommy Lee Jones passion project carefully. The pair will host a brunch with Jones on Sunday and unveil supporting roles from Morgan Freeman and John Goodman. 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 to buyers looking ahead to strike-afflicted 2010 slates.