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French Hill acquires Triton Pix

In a dramatic reversal of fortune, moribund Triton Pictures confirmed Thursday that it has been acquired by French Hill Entertainment, which plans to finance up to six movies annually, budgeted between $ 6 million and $ 12 million.

The investment comes just two months after Triton confirmed it was winding down operations after distributing such films as “A Brief History of Time, “”American Heart,””The Hairdresser’s Husband” and “Hearts of Darkness” in the specialized film arena (Daily Variety, Dec. 8). Triton was left bereft of operating capital when Japan-based investor Kadokawa Distribution Inc. pulled out as an equity investor earlier in the year.

Triton president and chief executive Jonathan Dana said a Daily Variety story on the company’s demise led to negotiations with French Hill.

“They read the obituary,” saidDana. “Then we got a phone call. Then we received a fax. Then we had a meeting. Then we had a deal … We didn’t think we would need to go out of business to become a competitive movie company. That’s the cosmic joke of it all.”

Under terms of the deal, Dana and Triton executive VP Jeff Ivers exchanged their Triton stock for French Hill stock. The duo also signed five-year contracts to continue to manage the company.

Details on Triton’s new owner were sketchy. Based in New York, French Hill Entertainment is described as a “recently formed private holding company which has been acquiring media assets in recent months.”

The principal investor behind French Hill was described as a significant New York deal-maker, who until recently, has been unattached to entertainment properties. Dana said the French Hill investor will come forward in the next two weeks, and will provide more details on the company’s entertainment strategies.

In September, French Hill Entertainment closed a deal for the Century Film Studios, which included a small video library of cartoons and exercise videos. It also controls the French Hill Modeling Agency, the rap and R&B label Keyboard Records and the IXL record catalog.

In a statement, French Hill vice chairman Donna DeVille said, “We’re building a media and entertainment company … We’re in this long term and plan to have a significant profile both in motion picture distribution and production. Triton will be our chief vehicle for this purpose.”

Dana, who hopes to be in production on a first film this summer, said Triton will branch out from the specialized movies it distributed over its first three years into more mainstream titles. Dana cited “Teen Wolf” and “Valley Girl”– two pix he was involved in as an executive of Atlantic Entertainment Group in the early 1980s — as examples of the types of movies Triton may produce.

Dana said “we’ll have to do movies that are more commercial” than typical Triton fare, but added that it will not abandon its arthouse roots.

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