Missy Schwartz and Daniel Fierman
May 23, 2005 AT 04:00 AM EDT

By the midpoint of the 58th annual Cannes film festival one thing was clear: The big star wasn’t Bill Murray, Natalie Portman, or Edward Norton. Cannes was all about Bob. As in former Newmarket head Bob Berney, who used the fest to launch a nine-movie slate for Picturehouse, a new HBO/New Line co-venture debuting this summer.

”We’d like to do films that surprise people,” Berney told EW in a posh Croisette bar, flanked by his two bosses, HBO’s Colin Callender and New Line’s Michael Lynne. ”They could be any genre, big or small.” First the small: Rock School (June), a doc about a real-life Jack Black (see story on page 90), and Gus Van Sant’s Last Days (July), which drew a mixed reception at Cannes. Then the big: the Diane Arbus biopic Fur, starring Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr., now shooting.

But as Berney’s launch dominated the daily conversation at Cannes, people started asking a natural question: Does Warner Bros., which started Warner Independent Pictures just last year, really need two indie divisions? The Picturehouse team says there’s ”plenty of room” for both companies — and WIP chief Mark Gill doesn’t seem too concerned. ”We’re active,” he insists. ”From our point of view, three competitors collapsed into one: Fine Line, HBO Films, and Newmarket. It’s just a big deal because of who is running their company.”

While that’s partly true — Berney’s successes include My Big Fat Greek Wedding and The Passion of the Christ — it’s also the case that Warner Independent has had an undeniably bumpy start, with disappointments ranging from The Jacket to the costly A Very Long Engagement. But WIP execs point to the critical hit Before Sunset, and insist the label is finding its footing with a slate that includes Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly and Liev Schreiber’s Everything Is Illuminated, as well as the next movie from Maria Full of Grace‘s writer- director, Joshua Marston. At press time Gill’s team was bidding on Cannes’ hottest property, Woody Allen’s Match Point. But insiders say the movie may go to Gill’s former bosses: the Weinsteins. That’s Hollywood — even in France.

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