Woody Switches to Fine Line

By Dan Cox and Monica Roman

CANNES (Variety) - Fine Line Features, continuing its shift toward more acquisitions, has agreed to pay $10.5 million for North American rights to Woody Allen's ``Deconstructing Harry'' and Barbara Kopple's documentary about the European tour of Allen's jazz band, sources said Tuesday.

The deal, which will mark the first time that Fine Line has released an Allen film, was a bonanza for Jean Doumanian Productions, the company Allen set up with former Saturday Night Live producer Doumanian.

But the pricey buy poses a marketing challenge for the arthouse distributor. None of Allen's last three films has grossed more than $14 million in the U.S. By contrast, the 1986 ``Hannah and Her Sisters'' rang up more than $40 million in the U.S. for distributor Orion.

The ``Harry'' move signals the end of Allen's distribution relationship with Miramax Films, which domestically released his last three pics -- ``Bullets Over Broadway,'' ``Mighty Aphrodite'' and the musical Everyone Says I Love You, the first two of which won Oscars.

Allen moved to Miramax after Orion Pictures, which released many of his earlier films, filed for bankruptcy.

Sources close to Allen said he was unhappy that Miramax did not use its clout to keep his latest, ``Everyone Says I Love You,'' on screens longer. However, Miramax executives are understood to be disappointed with the modest grosses of Allen's recent features.

Allen nonetheless offered the picture to Miramax; however, the Disney-owned indie passed because it wanted to retain international rights, to which Allen and Doumanian wouldn't agree. One source said the dealbreaker was the loss of rights in France, where the grosses on Allen's last three pictures have rivaled their U.S. receipts.

``Bullets Over Broadway'' grossed $14 million domestically and $7 million in France; ``Mighty Aphrodite'' picked up $7 million in U.S. as well as in France; and ``Everyone Says I Love You'' earned $10 million at U.S. kiosks and another $10 million in France.

Scheduled for a July delivery, ``Deconstructing Harry'' features an ensemble cast including Allen, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Demi Moore, Richard Benjamin, Kirstie Alley, Stanley Tucci, Amy Irving, Judy Davis, Julie Kavner, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mariel Hemingway and Elisabeth Shue.

As with nearly all Allen pictures, plot details were kept hidden, but Fine Line described the movie as the story of a writer, played by Allen, and the turmoil of his erotic life. Sources said it resembles the filmmaker's life, which in recent years has become fodder for U.S. tabloids.

Allen wrote and directed the pic, which was produced by Doumanian.

Fine Line executives said they were equally eager to distribute the documentary, which follows the European tour Allen made with his New Orleans-style jazz band. The arthouse made a hit of its last documentary release, ``Hoop Dreams.''