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‘Old Man’ fishes in Imax come May

Pic generating big auds worldwide

Oscar-nominated animated short “The Old Man and the Sea” will make its official U.S. debut in Imax theaters this May.

Producers believe the bow may spark an increase in the use of large-format theaters as an outlet for fictional shorts. Distribution, however, is complicated and costly.

The 22-minute film and its 18-minute companion profile of Ernest Hemingway have already been generating big audiences in large-format Imax theaters around the world.

The Pascal Blais Prods. toon, in which the classic story is told through oil painting manipulated on glass by the fingers of animator-director Alexander Petrov, was originally storyboarded as a traditional 35mm short before it was redesigned for the 70mm format, said Bernard Lajoie, one of the film’s producers.

Although the movie drew 80,000 ticket buyers in its first 12 weeks in Paris last fall and 80,000 in Montreal in less than 12 weeks, Lajoie said producers must work out separate deals with each theater owner. Distributors get just 20% of the box office gross, compared with about 50% for traditional theatrical exhibition and for the deal Disney was reportedly able to work out for its Imax presentation of “Fantasia 2000.”

Pascal Blais Prods. hopes to introduce the movie in 10 Imax theaters in North America this May. Some of the venues will be in the U.S., with broader U.S. distribution set for September.

“This should really open the door to filmmakers,” Lajoie said. “It makes the medium acceptable for fiction and family-oriented films.”

“The Old Man and the Sea” is the first animated short to be slated as the main program of an Imax presentation and the second animated large-format short film to be nominated for an Academy Award after the stop-motion pic “More,” Lajoie said.

The movie was the first film shown in a new Imax theater in June and then opened in Imax theaters last fall and winter in Paris, Australia, London, Brussels, Montreal and Holland; it will be distributed in Spain in September.

Like “Fantasia 2000,” “The Old Man and the Sea” will, after its Imax run, be distribbed in a 35mm version that will most likely require re-editing and reframing. A homevideo release will follow in two or three years.

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