Indie tackles Imax pix

Move marks major expansion

MONTREAL — Shaftesbury Films, one of Canada’s most seasoned indie pic producers, is expanding into Imax-format film production and distribution, with the creation of SK Films.

The new company, to be majority-owned by Shaftesbury, has been set up by Shaftesbury president Jonathan Barker, a former Imax Corp. executive, and Robert Kerr, one of the co-founders of Imax. Kerr, an Imax filmmaker, is a minority shareholder and will sit on the board.

The start of the Imax company is part of a major expansion for Shaftesbury, which is also forming a Canadian distribution company, Oasis Shaftesbury Releasing, and upping the number of features it’s producing annually.

SK Films will be involved in the production and distribution of large-format pics, and it has already acquired the worldwide rights to “Gold Fever,” a film currently in production with director David Lickley and set to be released next year. SK Films is also set to produce the 3-D Imax pic “Journey to the Center of the Brain,” a 40-minute documentary to be directed by Hugh Hudson (“Chariots of Fire,” “Greystoke,” and the upcoming “My Life So Far”). The film is being made for the London Science Museum and National Museum of Film, Photography and Television. SK Films has also taken world rights to the project.

Production pact

In addition, SK Films has inked a long-term production deal with the team of Oscar-nominated helmer and cinematographer David Douglas (“Fires of Kuwait’) and producer Diane Roberts. The first SK Films pic with Douglas and Roberts will be “Rodeo,” a look at the world of small-town rodeos. There are also several other SK Films productions in development, notably “Grizzly” and travel pic “Puerto Rico.”

“The Imax world is exploding in terms of theater building and demand for product,” said Shaftesbury Films chairman Christina Jennings. “It’s also about diversification, so that we become a fully integrated company.”

On the Canadian front, Shaftesbury is pacting with Toronto-based foreign-sales company Oasis Pic-tures to form Oasis Shaftesbury Releasing, a domestic Canadian distribution company that will be primarily devoted to handling Canuck product. The distrib is a 50-50 joint venture between Shaftesbury and Oasis topper Peter Emerson. The first release will be the November launch of “Conquest,” a Shaftesbury production toplining Lothaire Bluteau, Tara Fitzgerald and Monique Mercure. “There is room for smaller, indie distribs in Canada now that so many Canadian distributors have either gone out of business or been amalgamated into larger companies,” said Jennings.

Jennings also unveiled three new pics set to shoot in the coming months. Late this fall, shooting will begin on the dark comic thriller “Deeper Into Jennifer,” a Canadian-French co-production directed by Belgian helmer Andre Bonzel (“Man Bites Dog”). Next up for Shaftesbury will be “The Boggart,” a British-Canadian venture set to lens on location in Scotland and Canada in the spring of 1999. In the coming weeks, Shaftesbury will be shooting “External Affairs,” a made-for-CBC TV movie directed by Peter Moss and starring Genevieve Bujold. It is based on the play “The Stillborn Lover,” by Canadian author Timothy Findlay.

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