Fox, UGC Ink Dsitrib’n, Co-prod Deal

Following in the footsteps of Gaumont and Buena Vista Intl., Gallic major UGC has inked a distribution and co-production deal with 20th Century Fox.

The deal includes setting up a joint distribution company in France, similar to the Gaumont/BVI partnership that was born in 1992. The new Fox/UGC entity, which is expected to be operational this spring, will handle exclusive distribution of pix from both companies in France. Fox pictures have traditionally been released here by Fox France.

On the international front, Fox will distribute selected UGC films worldwide, including the U.S. UGC has recently turned its attention to producing English-language films by financing projects developed by Jeremy Thomas.

In a statement released Jan. 11, the duo also announced that Fox Searchlight Pictures will co-finance and co-produce film projects with UGC Images. Searchlight, headed by Tom Rothman, makes specialized adult-oriented films. Searchlight will invest in both French and European production, according to sources close to the deal.

Commenting on the alliance, UGC’s managing director Alain Sussfeld said, “This agreement is essential for UGC. It will result in the creation in France of a leading distribution company with major titles from the United States and European production.”

Although details of how the new distribution arm will work have not been revealed, indications are that Fox/UGC will release around 30 pix per year.

UGC sources indicated that one third of the films will be French, one third European and the balance American.

“It is the most active filmmaking country in Europe, and this combination of a U.S. major and a French major will provide audiences with a diverse line-up of the highest quality entertainment,” said 20th Century Fox Intl. prexy Jim Gianopulos in a prepared statement. The future of Fox France topper Gerard Lefevre was the subject of considerable speculation Jan. 12, with most Paris distribution execs predicting that he will not be part of the new Fox/UGC combo. Lefevre was locked in management talks and would not comment.

Reaction to the Fox/UGC agreement was mixed in Paris, but few distributors expected the marriage to shoot the duo to the top of the distribution pile. UGC has a solid reputation as an exhibition company, but its distribution activities draw less respect. Fox has been criticized for not giving enough decision making power to its Paris office.

“It’s going to be especially interesting to see if Fox will finally let decisions be made in France rather than imposing everything from the U.S,” said one veteran distributor.

The new pact ends Fox’s lengthy search for a French partner. Gianopulos is known to have held talks with leading indie AMLF but the two sides were unable to agree on terms.

Fox Searchlight and UGC Images, headed by Yves Marmion, will work together on some projects but also continue to make movies independently.

– Beth Laski in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

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