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.