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A Classic View From Room 360

May 19, 1986|JACK MATHEWS | Times Staff Writer

CANNES, France — Room 360 at the Carlton Hotel isn't much for what, $200 a day? There are two beds, a television that speaks French, a view of the inside wall of the west wing.

But it is serviceable as a makeshift conference room and it is here each morning--for the duration of a Cannes Film Festival that will be better remembered for its weather than its movies--that the three people running Orion Classics get together to plan the day's strategy.

Room 360 belongs to Donna Gigliotti, Orion Classics vice president of acquisitions. And though she and her two colleagues--Michael Barker, vice president of sales, and Tom Bernard, vice president of marketing and distribution--have equal pay and equal say, Gigliotti seems to be the conference conductor.

Their meetings, and similar meetings held by their competitors, are like planning sessions held by professional football teams before the annual college draft. They assess the pictures on display here and decide which, if any, will be useful in their lineup.

Orion Classics, the last of the big studio "specialty" divisions, releases 10 to 14 films a year and Cannes puts a lot of unsigned talent on display.

However, the 1986 Cannes Film Festival has been filled with disappointments. Not only has it been devoid of U.S. stars, there have been few films to inspire much enthusiasm.

This is particularly true of the "art house" films, the smart or offbeat or foreign movies that, if handled with care, can return modest profits to non-greedy distributors such as Orion and Island Pictures.

There has been no "Carmen," no "Paris, Texas," no "Ran"--the hot films of the last three festivals--to create a bidding frenzy.

"This has been a very weak year," Barker said. "Usually, we're looking seriously at five or six films a day over here. This year, there just hasn't been much to see."

Gigliotti estimates that between the three of them, the Orion trio have seen 50 movies at this year's festival. Of those, they have had an interest in only a couple. And they have bought none.

Nevertheless, they continue the hunt, putting in days that start with breakfast in Room 360 and end with the group reconnoitering 12 to 14 hours later.

During the morning meeting, they decide who is going to see which movie, and they decide who will meet with which film makers.

On Friday, their movie schedule included two Australian films--"Around the World in 80 Ways" and "Departure" and the French film "Therese."

Before the movies, they had lunch with Spike Lee, a young director with whom they hope to make future films.

Later, all three went to the competition screening of David Puttnam's "The Mission."

They met for dinner out of town with the French company that handles Eric Rohmer's movies (Orion released the last three of Rohmer's films in the U.S.).

At 1:30 in the morning, they met with a group of Canadian journalists in the bar of another Cannes hotel to get feedback on the Canadian films being shown here.

In between, they met with several European film companies. And they had a promotional session with director Carlos Saura, whose film "El Amor Brujo" closes the festival tonight. Orion picked up Saura's "Carmen" here three years ago and is distributing "El Amor Brujo" in the United States.

The film they thought would be hot before the festival--Nagisa Oshima's "Max, Mon Amour"--has been ridiculed by many critics here, and its stock has fallen. "That's good for us," said Bernard. "We're still interested in 'Max,' and the price has gone down."

In a very real way, film critics have more power while attending the Cannes Film Festival and talking about the movies they see than they have when they get home and actually begin writing about them.

The international value of a movie--the amount its producer can expect to get for its territorial rights--is largely determined by the critics' reaction here.

Discussing the immediate reaction to films at Cannes is a regular aspect of Orion Classics' daily brainstorming session.

Critics also create an interest in films--as they have this year with Alex Cox's "Sid and Nancy," a drama about the late punk rock star Sid Vicious--and the distributors all have had to take a look.

Barker and Bernard disagreed about the prospects of "Sid and Nancy." At Friday's morning meeting, Barker argued that the film would be a big hit in the States and that it would have a high video resale value. Bernard said he was concerned that exhibitors would refuse to play the film, fearing that it would draw a punk audience.

As of Sunday, the American rights to "Sid and Nancy" were still uncommitted.

Gigliotti said Sunday that she thinks Orion Classics will end up with "Max, Mon Amour" but the deal probably won't be closed before the festival ends tonight.

"Max," the story of a woman who falls in love with a chimpanzee, was produced by Serge Silberman, who also produced "Ran," which Orion picked up at last year's festival.

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