Battle Keeps Penn's Pledge Out of Festival

HOLLYWOOD (Variety) — Director Sean Penn's latest movie, The Pledge, has been pulled from next month's Berlin International Film Festival, the victim of a bitter legal feud involving its producer.

Franchise Pictures, which also made the John Travolta bomb Battlefield Earth, is enmeshed in litigation with Munich, Germany-based film rights company Intertainment, which distributes Franchise products in German-speaking territories.

They are suing each other in a Los Angeles court, with Intertainment alleging that Franchise illegally inflated production budgets, which were covered in part by Intertainment, and with Franchise countering with a fraud and breach-of-contract suit.

Each company accused the other of withdrawing The Pledge from its competition slot at the Feb. 7-18 event. The critically acclaimed cop drama, which stars Jack Nicholson, will be replaced by Thirteen Days, which will screen out of competition.

"It's a really sad day," Franchise President and CEO Andrew Stevens said. "The odds of getting a film into the Berlinale are so slim, and to have that stripped away by them … shows very little regard for art and film."

An Intertainment spokesman countered that Franchise caused the confusion: "They pulled the film back yesterday without our knowledge, and because of the short time frame, we can't go through our lawyers and get an answer to Berlin in time."

Intertainment chief Barry Baeres added, "Intertainment recognizes the high value that presenting a film at Berlin brings, and we would like to have it in competition. But we haven't even had delivery of the film."

Stevens insisted that film materials were shipped to a lab in Germany "over a month ago, so that is not true."

Festival organizers expressed regret over the film's withdrawal. "Sean Penn wanted this film to be in competition and is very sad, but he doesn't own the film," festival head Moritz de Hadeln told Daily Variety.

But, says de Hadeln, "Thirteen Days is especially important for Berlin, because the Cuban crisis was closely linked to the fate of West Berlin."

The Pledge, distributed in the United States by Warner Bros., opened at No. 11 last weekend with a three-day haul of $5.8 million.