Legal flap over pair of AFM pix

A fight over control of two indie pix currently being marketed at AFM — one that has allegedly led to death threats by the former distributor — landed in court Thursday, with a producer and a financing company seeking a restraining order against a financier/distributor whothey claim is a swindler.

As of late Thursday, Elisabeth Martin (of Paca Financing) and producer Pierre Novat (of Arthur Pictures) had obtained their restraining order against Ulysse Entertainment, its parent company Sud Finance and the company’s principal, Philippe Martinez. Additionally, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge appointed a third party, John Hyde, as an official receiver of the two films.

Beginning today, it will be Hyde — not Ulysse Entertainment — who will handle all AFM-related marketing of the films, “Getting In” and “The Night and the Moment,” starring Lena Olin and Willem Dafoe.

“Our clients are more comfortable now that a collection of receipts and future foreign sales will be controlled by the receiver (Hyde),” said Steve Chrystie, of Chrystie & Berle, the firm representing Martin and Novat, and their indie companies.

The lawyer representing Martinez, Schuyler Moore of Stroock, Stroock & Lavan, could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, a story of an alleged sting set-up by Martinez and Sud Finance was laid out by Martin and Novat in their suit against the American financier, filed Thursday along with the request for a restraining order.

The duo claim that they, and their 60 or so investors, were the victims of a swindle when Ulysse agreed to co-finance both films and then act as distributor. According to court papers, the original agreement called for Ulysse to pay Arthur Pictures three installments totalling approximately $ 3.4 million on the pictures. Arthur Pix, meanwhile, raised $ 1.5 million toward production.

Yet after Ulysse paid the initial $ 400,000, it did not pay any additional monies, court papers state.

Both sides then hashed out a second agreement whereby Ulysse would only pay $ 1.65 million and act as a sales agent for the films, not a distributor. The agreement stated that Ulysse would receive a 10% commission from the film, but have no rights in the picture.

At that point, Paca Finance stepped in and agreed to raise the capital through its investors.

Paca lived up to its end of the bargain court papers claim, but Ulysse allegedly only handed over $ 1.35 million of the money to Arthur Pictures, keeping $ 300,000 for unexplained reasons.

In ensuing months, both Arthur and Paca principals say they discovered that Martinez and his companies were double-selling rights to one of the films, handling unauthorized sales and pocketing the cash.

The duo also say they learned that Martinez tried to transfer a 10% interest in “Night and the Moment” to pay off a past debt, which would be illegal. Court papers state that he gave false escrow papers to a Los Angeles area bank allowing withdrawal of $ 89,000 from the films’ escrow account without consent from Paca financing.

When confronted with this, Martin and Novat claim that Martinez made death threats against them and then threatened to destroy the master print of one of the films.

“Sud Finance, Ulysse and Martinez have engaged in a course of conduct which makes it clear that their mandate is, and always has been, to ‘take the money and run,’ ” court papers conclude.

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