HBO Films London has made its first pick-up, acquiring international rights to Lucrecia Martel's The Holy Girl from Pedro and Agustin Almodovar's El Deseo.

The film is Martel's first film since La Cienega, the 2001 festival hit about two women and their families in a small town in Argentina.

The Holy Girl is the story of a young girl trying to find her place in her religion. It stars Mia Maestro, Carlos Belloso and Maria Alche. It is produced by Lita Stantic, who also produced La Cienega.

'Acquisitions complement our existing line of films,' explained Colin Callender, the president of HBO Films. 'With HBO Films London, we wanted to create a sales operation which would respond to the rapidly changing marketplace. Rosa Bosch and Penny Wolf are so well-connected internationally, and can bring in projects like this one.'

Callender also introduced three new HBO pictures to press yesterday: a film of Richard Russo's novel Empire Falls to star and be executive produced by Paul Newman, a biopic of legendary bluesman Robert Johnson called Love In Vain and to star Sean 'P Diddy' Combs to be directed by Tim Blake Nelson and Strip Search, a drama on crime and punishment in post 9/11 America directed by Sidney Lumet and executive produced by Barry Levinson, Jim Finnerty and Tom Fontana.

Callender added that he is looking to pursue his relationship with AOL Time Warner stablemate New Line Cinema on his US theatrical releases. The two companies first teamed on American Splendor.

Callender said that he thought Elephant, the Gus Van Sant-directed film in competition here, would be released theatrically in North America before its first screenings on HBO itself.