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First Independent may close its doors

U.K. distrib on lookout for buyer

LONDON — United News & Media has signaled that it will close down First Independent Films, the U.K. theatrical and video distrib, by the end of this year, unless it can find a buyer within the next fortnight.

United has been looking to sell First Independent for several months, but has so far been unable to line up a sale. Rumored interest from Canadian companies Alliance and Behaviour has failed to materialize into a deal.

First Independent’s staff was informed Friday that, unless a buyer can be found before the end of this month, United will start shutting down the company.

Not part of plans

Roger Laughton, chief exec of United’s broadcasting and entertainment division, said in a statement, “After a thorough review of our core businesses, we have decided that owning a U.K. independent film distribution company is not part of our medium-term plans.”

“We have talked to potential purchasers about a sale of First Independent, and this remains our favored option,” he continued. “But, given the damage done by continual uncertainty about the company’s future, we may soon need to consider the other option of closing the company at the end of the year. Our final decision needs to take into account the interests both of our customers and of our staff.”

Bidding war possible

If United does decide to close First Independent, there is likely to be a bidding war for the one attractive title remaining on the company’s release slate, the Irish comedy “Waking Ned.” Fox Searchlight paid $5 million for North American rights to the pic at Cannes, and is understood to be keen to add the U.K. to the deal, but other majors are also thought to be interested.

At the moment, First Independent is due to release “Waking Ned” in October, although Fox is not planning to open the film stateside until March.

The closure of First Independent, while not unexpected, would be a further blow to the U.K.’s already depleted theatrical distribution sector. The company has been one of the few buyers of major Hollywood titles, such as “Dumb and Dumber” and “G.I. Jane,” respectively First Independent’s biggest hit and worst flop of recent years.

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