U.S. Buyers Back in Business at Cannes (Cannes)

KITSHOFF/Film Bridge International
A select group of domestic buyers will see scenes from "Winnie" at the festival.

Deals were few and far between for American companies in recent years with the exception of Sony Pictures Classics and IFC Films, which picked up finished titles.

CANNES -- U.S. buyers are aggressively hunting down deals on the Croisette, buoyed by box office hits like The King¹s Speech and Black Swan, movies made outside the Hollywood studio system.

In recent years, U.S. buyers, battered by a downturn at the specialty box office, were relatively quiet at Cannes. Companies such as Sony Pictures Classics and IFC Films continued to pick up finished titles playing the festival, but otherwise, deals were few and far between.

This year, with the success of Swan and King's Speech fresh in buyers' minds and with a swath of new distribution companies like FilmDistrict, Relativity Media and Open Road Films, the U.S. domestic acquisitions biz is seeing a bounce back. Like Screen Gems, Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment, these new kids on the block are looking for midrange product they can open nationwide. 

Only three days into the festival and market, a number of checks have already been written, from smaller specialty titles to larger, more commercial projects. On Thursday evening, a bidding war ensued over Pathe's Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady. The Weinstein Co. and Ron Burkle's Yucaipa Co. won out when offering nearly $7 million, a hefty sum and Pathe's asking price. Bidding had started at $5 million.

Like TWC and Yucaipa, Roadside Attractions and Mickey Liddell had teamed up in their play for Iron Lady, considered an obvious awards play because of Streep. Roadside's presence in the bidding signals the company¹s confidence and heightened profile in the wake of Winter's Bone and Biutiful

"For high profile titles, there is a very active market this year," Roadside's Howard Cohen said.

In terms of specialty titles like Winter's Bone, other projects getting a close look during Cannes are Walter Salles' On the Road, the film adaptation of Jack Keroac's classic tome and starring Sam Riley as Sal Paradise and Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty. Insiders say footage of the film will be shown to domestic buyers here on Sunday evening. On the Road is produced by Francis Ford Coppola, Film4 and MK2. 

And a select group of domestic distributors will get a chance to see footage from the Winnie Mandela biopic Winnie, starring Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard, according to one buyer.

U.S. companies are even making prebuys. Earlier this week, Peter Schlessel and Bob Berney's FilmDistrict acquired U.S. rights to Arabian Nights. Chuck Russell will direct the pic, starring Liam Hemsworth. Inferno, which is handling worldwide sales, is producing the movie. Arabian Nights is FilmDistrict's second Cannes buy of the day after romantic comedy Playing the Field, starring Gerard Biel and Jessica Biel. The movie, now in production, also stars Judy Greer, Dennis Quaid, Uma Thurman and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Nu Image/Millnneium Films is producing. 

IFC has pre-bought Something in the Air, taking North American rights to the new drama from French director Olivier Assayas, whose last film, Carlos, won a Golden Globe. IFC also has picked up Something from France's MK2. Other script-stage projects that are in play for a domestic deal, in addition to foreign sales, include the Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy starrer The Wettest County in the World. John Hillcoat is directing the movie, which is based on Matt Bondurant's novel and follows three brothers in the bootlegging business during Prohibition. Nick Cave wrote the adapted screenplay. Glen Basner's FilmNation is repping worldwide rights on Wettest County. Several offers have been submitted, according to one insider. 

And there could easily be a deal for domestic rights to Inferno's The Host, based on Twlight author Stephenie Meyer's book. Andrew Niccol is directing the film, which Inferno is also shopping to foreign buyers. And there's a second Meryl Streep project in possible domestic play, Great Hope Springs, from Mandate Pictures and also starring Steve Carell. Lionsgate Intl. is handling worldwide rights to the movie, which David Frankel is directing. The film also stars Jeff Bridges

On the eve of Cannes, CBS Films won a heated bidding war for U.S. distribution rights to the Daniel Radcliffe-starrer The Woman in Black, a gothic horror thriller that James Watkins will direct from a script by Jane Goldman (CBS is eyeing Wettest County, but securing rights to Woman in Black was its foremost goal out of Cannes).

Among the more traditional deals for finished product, Sony Classics acquired North American and Latin American rights to writer-director Joseph Cedar's competition drama Footnote on Friday ahead of its gala premiere. The film follows what happens between a father and his son, highly competitive professors, after one is chosen to receive a great honor. SPC acquired In a Better World and The Secret in Their Eyes at previous Cannes markets and both won the best foreign-language prize at the Oscars.

The Weinstein Co., in another Cannes buy, picked up worldwide rights outside of Asia and French-speaking Europe for Dragon (Wu Xia), the martial arts film noir from  director Peter Ho-Sun Chan (Bodyguards and Assassins), starring Donnie Yen, which is screening Out of Competition here.