As Factory Girl flickered off the Arlington screen, Emmanuel Itier faced a midnight deadline to call his native France.
By then it would be 9 a.m. in Paris and his independent distributor clients would be nervously awaiting his thumbs up or down on the movie. Should they try to buy French rights to the painful story of “poor little rich girl” Edie Sedgwick’s self-destructive life?
The question wasn’t whether Santa Barbaran Itier liked the film. The decision solely depended on whether he thought Factory Girl would lure enough French audiences. In short: Would it make money?
“It’s not a gut feeling,” said Itier, also a journalist, director with two films to his credit, and a board member of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which showcased the movie as its opening film. “It’s a matter of dollars and cents. It’s about how much (the clients) can get back.” It’s the business part of show business.
“I have to judge it with my business eye.” After the lights went back on at the Arlington Thursday night, Itier walked down to the after-party at Paseo Nuevo, had a couple of glasses of Champagne, went home with his wife Roxie, and sent word to Paris. Buy. “I thought it was a very moving and intense story,” he told me.
On the red carpet he had interviewed Sienna Miller, who played Edie in the film, and would be filing the story with the Web sites for which he writes.
At 5 a.m. Friday he was up and on his way to L.A. to interview actor Andy Garcia. That night he was back at the Arlington red carpet to snatch a quick interview with Helen Mirren, who was being awarded the festival’s 2007 Outstanding Performance of the Year award for The Queen, and maybe get a few more words with her at the after-party.
Itier, raised in Nice and a Santa Barbaran for 15 years — who happens to be my neighbor — makes the rounds of film festivals, scouting out possible buys to recommend to independent distributors in France who rely on his judgment.
Along the way, he suggests possible entries for the Santa Barbara fest to executive director Roger Durling. “My life is a mixture of pleasure and pressure,” he told me at his Riviera home.
On Thursday, for instance, he stopped at the Direct Relief International fundraiser at Café Buenos Aires for a drink and to schmooze, then found a spot across the street at the Arlington red carpet to interview Factory Girl VIPs for the five Web sites he writes for, then donned his critical judgment hat to evaluate the movie.
“It’s hard work,” he said with a laugh. “A drink at the reception, then line up on the red carpet, and then enjoy myself.”
Another Santa Barbara Film Festival entry he’s recommending to clients is 9th Company, the true story about the journey of a platoon of Russian soldier recruits who were forgotten and left to die during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The 2005 release was a box office hit in Russia and winner of the Russian Golden Eagle Award.
“It’s a tricky game,” advising for France’s highly competitive independent distributor market, Itier told me. He visits France every two or three months to keep in touch.
When he’s not interviewing film stars, directors, and others in show business, and reviewing films, he directs movies. Itier has directed Scarecrow — a horror film — and Tell Me No Lies, an erotic story, and is seeking investors for his next one.
The French have long been known for their relish for film and Itier is outspoken in his deep passion.
“I think movies are art, about loving life. I’m a glutton for movies. I love movies. I devour them. I love life. Every year it’s a struggle to put on the festival. We are so passionate about movies. You have to be.” The Santa Barbara festival is the last one before the Oscars, and important for filmmakers to get media attention and attract deals for the movies being shown.
“People don’t realize it but this is business,” he said. Scouts will be taking in the films, picking the ones they like, “and fighting to grab the rights.”
Itier has no restrictions on which country’s movies he’ll recommend to the French. “I can recommend a good Asian one or Spanish.” After the Sundance festival he suggested that his clients buy French rights to Summer Rain, “a beautiful, sensitive picture” directed by actor Antonio Banderas. (Think troubled youth in the south of Spain.)
Among the movies he’s liked so far in the Santa Barbara festival are A Very British Gangster, a documentary, and Blood Diamond, a movie “that makes you cry because of the exploitation of children.”
In his spare time Itier reads omnivorously and writes poetry. Among the Web sites he writes for are buzzine.com, thebookla.com, and allocine.fr, which he says reach a total of about 7 million viewers a month.
Barney Brantingham can be reached at email@example.com or at 805-965-5205. He writes a Tuesday online column for The Independent, a Thursday print column, and a Friday Barney’s Weekend Picks.
Photo by Sue De Lapa of Emmanuel Itier and son Felix