Atlantis’ U.S. push has ‘Life’

Atlantis Films Ltd. is continuing its headlong push into U.S. production, with the Canadian outfit adding several made-for-cable movies and a series version of the popular feature “My Life as a Dog” to what’s estimated at a $ 75 million production slate.

Those projects include two movies for Showtime and a pair for the Family Channel. One of the latter, “Underground to Freedom,” will be produced with actor/producer Tim Reid’s United Image Entertainment. In an intriguing deal, “Freedom” will be simulcast on the Family Channel and Black Entertainment TV — a partner in Reid’s company — during Black History Month in February.

Atlantis is also partnering with NBC Prods. on the other Family Channel movie , “Harvest,” a multigenerational family drama, written by Malcolm MacRury (“Man Without a Face”), about a man returning to his family farm. The project is positioned as a back-door pilot that could be shared by NBC and the basic cabler.

The “My Life as a Dog” series is seen as a one-camera filmed version of the 1985 Swedish movie, the top-grossing foreign film in U.S. homevideo, according to Atlantis. Reidar Jonsson, who wrote the book and co-wrote the screenplay, is participating in the series, which will probably be set in North America but will still involve a 12-year-old boy sent to live in a town full of eccentrics.

The Showtime movies are “Heads,” a black comedy starring Jon Cryer and Jennifer Tilly, and “Sodbusters,” a Western spoof written (with John Hemphill) and directed by Eugene Levy, who teamed previously with Atlantis and Lucasfilm Ltd. on the Family Channel series “Maniac Mansion.” Both projects also have been sold to Canada’s Movie Network.

Peter Sussman, a partner in Atlantis and head of the Los Angeles office, said the company wants to be creative in terms of such deals, where it can spread around license fees from multiple sources and produce higher-quality movies. “I’m a big believer that one plus one is three,” he said.

Sussman added that Atlantis now views the U.S. as its primary market — having initially seen U.S. channels as a secondary sale “not out of choice, but out of accessibility.” Other major Canadian production companies, such as Alliance and Paragon, also have pushed aggressively into U.S. production. “Our growth is right here, because here we’re scratching the surface,” Sussman said — in contrast to Canada, where “we’re bumping our heads on the ceiling.”

Atlantis is also producing “TekWar,” a series of movies for the syndicated Universal Action Network based on the William Shatner novels. Greg Evigan (“My Two Dads”) stars and Shatner and Sheena Easton appear in supporting roles.

Universal will handle distribution on that project, though Atlantis retains rights to all other productions, distributed through Atlantis Releasing.

Current Atlantis series — all airing in Canada, some with exhibition on U.S. cable networks, include “Wild Side,” a”docuventure” of 13 half-hours (Nickelodeon); “Neon Rider,” a youth-oriented CTV show; “Destiny Ridge,” a drama starring Elke Sommer sold in Canada and Germany; “Ray Bradbury Theater” (USA Network), and “African Skies” (Family Channel).

The company also produced theatrical releases “The Quarrel,” which will air on PBS’ American Playhouse series in November; and “Love and Human Remains,” the first English-language film from director Denys Arcand (“Jesus of Montreal”).

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