15-year association between Alliance Communication Corp. chairman Robert Lantos and MDP Worldwide founder Mark Damon led to the companies forming a joint venture in March to acquire and license international rights to feature films.

Lantos and Damon, wishing to merge the know-how of their respective businesses, have combined their energies and assets in Alliance-MDP Worldwide to develop and finance six to eight features a year, some of which will be produced by Alliance. Exclusive rights in Canada are retained by Alliance Releasing, while the joint venture takes foreign or worldwide distribution rights.

“Our friendship and business relationship goes back to before Alliance existed,” Damon says. “Robert came to me as a producer on ‘Heavenly Bodies’ and we co-produced it with him.” That Canadian film was released domestically by MGM/UA in 1985.

While that project established a business affiliation between Lantos and Damon, their most recent dealings have been through Alliance Releasing, which distributes most of MDP’s films exclusively in Canada.

“It was during the evolution of our exclusive distribution relationship that we began talking about expanding our relationship,” Damon says.

“Alliance did not have a strong sales company, and with our being in the U.S., we could bring them projects to make in Canada.”

Lantos gave the project his OK out of a realization that Alliance, to boost its production of bigger-budget pix, would have to partner with a strong international distribution organization.

“What we needed was a way to distribute those movies in an optimal fashion,” says Lantos. “We were not equipped for that in the existing international structure we had. Hence MDP, which not only gives us that distribution structure, but also gives us a great deal of production that MDP attracts and brings to the table. These are movies that normally, as a Canadian company, we wouldn’t be focused on making and would not be exposed to – but MDP is.”

Under the new arrangement, Damon is chairman and CEO of Alliance-MDP Worldwide, an equal partnership. Damon and the staff of MDP Worldwide work exclusively with the new company.

“We’re looking to expand into more wide-release, international feature films, and Mark Damon is the ideal person to link up with to do that,” said George Burger, executive VP of Alliance Communication Corp., who was instrumental in putting the deal together.

Burger said the new entity will seek to acquire distribution rights and provide financing for indie films budgeted in the $6 million to $20 million range.

Into the partnership MDP has folded its library of 40 films, which includes Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book,” and upcoming pix such as the Jean-Claude Van Damme-helmed actioner, “The Quest,” being lensed in Thailand and Canada, Paul Maslansky’s “Stunt School” and Shared and Raju Patel’s “Tom Thumb.”

Alliance contributes the political thriller “No Other Life,” in which Costa Gavras is set to direct.

While Alliance has been known for its TV production, the company has produced numerous low-budget films in the past. More recently, Alliance has moved into the big-budget arena with the Keanu Reeves starrer “Johnny Mnemonic,” slated for a June 2 release by Sony Pictures, and “Never Talk To Strangers,” the Rebecca DeMornay, Antonio Banderas vehicle that recently wrapped principal photography in Toronto. Sony has scheduled the pic for release in October. MDP previously acquired international rights to both pix.

The new partnership was announced March 1 at the American Film Market.

Brendan Kelly in Montreal contributed to this report.

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