In answer to those who see UIP as simply a U.S. beachhead in foreign markets, company execs are at pains to point out that local fare is also grist to its distribution mill.

“We like to pick up local movies,” declares Andrew Cripps, senior VP, international sales. “Our policy is to look for economically viable titles. More are picked up at the screening stage than at the script stage, but it does go both ways.”

Cripps says the company has just picked up “Cry, the Beloved Country” for South Africa. This latest pic version of Alan Paton’s classic drama about a black priest and a white landowner will preem in late October. UIP also has invested in “The Merman,” a Dutch picture now in production.

Rare exceptions

Titles are rarely picked up for a wide spread of markets, but there are exceptions. The 1988 Dutch farce “Flodder,” hugely successful at home, was acquired for 11 territories, including Brazil and New Zealand. The Brit sex-and-politics drama “Scandal” (1989) was taken for 30 countries, including France and Brazil. The only recent title to get a wide push was the historical opus “Nostradamus” (1994), which went to 16 territories, including Mexico and Australia.

In a country like Spain, UIP is forced to release local product to get dubbing licenses for its U.S. movies (see story on Euro legal tussles, p. tk). But some Spanish language items have garnered both local and international awards, and performed well in Spain.

The 1992 period piece “Belle Epoque” nabbed the Oscar for best foreign-language film, and UIP handled it also in Turkey, Argentina and Colombia. “Everyone Off to Jail” (1994), a black comedy about political prisoners, won best pic and best direction (by vet Luis Berlanga) at the Goyas, Spain’s version of the Oscars. Also reaping Goyas was the 1994 “Banderas the Tyrant,” starring Gian Maria Volonte as a Latino dictator of the ’20s, which UIP distribbed in Mexico as well. Imanol Uribe’s San Sebastian fest winner, “Numbered Days” (1994), about terrorists and the drug world, played Spanish theaters through UIP.

In Spain, UIP also took this year’s Academy Award winner for best foreign-lingo film, Nikita Mikhalkov’s Russian- French “Burnt by the Sun.” In France and its native Belgium, “The Chess Game” went out through UIP.

A rare setback was Ken Loach’s “Ladybird, Ladybird” (1994), a tough drama about an unmarried working-class mother, that UIP picked up for the U.K.

Recalls UIP (U.K.) managing director Chris Hedges, “We thought it was a brilliantly made film that deserved a significant theatrical release. A great deal of hard work was put into the marketing, but unfortunately the result was disappointing.”

Sally Hibbin, the pic’s producer, is full of praise for UIP’s handling. “It was a very tough film to release in the cinema, and I think UIP was brave for trying it. They certainly put their heart and soul behind it, and were as disappointed as we were when it didn’t work.”

Hedges rebuts accusations that local pickups like “Ladybird” are partly to soften impressions of UIP as just a Yank monolith.

“We (in London) are always looking to acquire British films, and we actively pursue those we believe have a real chance, as was the case with ‘Ladybird,’ ” says Hedges.

UIP had a strong Brit success last year with “Shadowlands,” helmed by Richard Attenborough, whose 1987 “Cry Freedom” was distribbed by the company. Hedges says the pic, which UIP acquired only for the U.K., showed excellent legs both in central London and regionally.

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