Momentum goes native

Momentum Pictures may be owned by Canadians and led by an American, but among British distribs it has become one of the most active supporters of local movies.

On Nov. 1 the company, under Portland, Ore.-born managing director David Kosse, opened Scottish helmer Lynne Ramsay’s sophomore pic “Morvern Callar,” which was majority-financed by its Canuck parent Alliance Atlantis. Still in release, and heading for a healthy $4 million gross, is the Marc Evans chiller “My Little Eye,” which Momentum picked up from Working Title when UIP didn’t know what to do with it. Both pics are tough sells that benefited from strong press support, expertly marshalled by the distrib.

Momentum recently opened Peter Mullan’s equally challenging “The Magdalene Sisters” in Ireland, prior to a U.K. release in February. Pic, which the distrib boarded at script stage, won the Golden Lion at Venice. Upcoming is Tim Fywell’s period romance “I Capture the Castle,” bought as a completed movie.

Meanwhile, the company has coin in more than a dozen Brit pics at various stages of production or development. “Mystics,” an Irish geezer caper in the vein of “Waking Ned Devine,” is in post. So are Matthew Parkhill’s thriller “Dot the I,” starring Gael Garcia Bernal, and Paul Morrison’s buzzy Jewish cricket comedy, “Wondrous Oblivion.” Momentum also has pre-bought Richard Loncraine’s “My House in Umbria” from HBO Films.

Production is about to start on “Solid Air,” a low-budget digital drama by Scottish helmer Mary Miles Thomas, and pre-production is under way on another Scottish pic, “The Bum’s Rush” from Dougray Scott’s Hero Films. “The Romford (aka Reluctant) Matador,” to star Ryan Reynolds, is in advanced development. Simon Shore’s “30 Things,” a remake of Dutch hit “All-Stars,” is on course to shoot early next year.

Further down the line, Momentum is developing Gurinder Chadha’s “Are You Experienced?” about the misadventures of Brit backpackers in India; Peter Hewitt’s “Faking It,” a comedy caper about guys who fake clips of news events; and “Kiss It,” an edgy romantic comedy by first-time writer-director Eric Christiansen. It has five other projects in development under its first-look deal with Brit producer Richard Holmes and is circling the ex-FilmFour project “Shaun of the Dead.”

Kosse’s openness to British movies belies his American origins but reflects the fact that he learned his trade at Polygram. “We want a homegrown hit, and the best way to get one is to spread the net across a wide range of material,” Kosse says. “You can never be sure exactly what’s going to work, but we’re keen to support a new generation of British filmmakers who are attempting to make commercial British movies.”

Polygram back from the dead?

Polygram may be long gone, but its name could be poised for an unlikely comeback. After the Seagram takeover three years ago, the Canadian company allowed its rights to the Polygram name to lapse. But search today in the records of the U.K.’s Companies House, and you will discover that Polygram, Polygram Group and Polygram Pictures are registered to the third floor of Ariel House in Charlotte Street, London. That happens to be the home of Helkon SK, the indie distrib run by Simon Franks and Zygi Kamasa. They are in the midst of a management buyout from insolvent German parent Helkon Medien and are planning to adopt a new corporate identity. Could they seriously be considering renaming themselves Polygram? With the maverick Franks, it’s entirely possible.

C4 calls in Mason

Channel 4 has brought in former Polygram/Universal exec Graeme Mason to work as a consultant alongside the departing FilmFour team. The official line is that he’s there to help protect the value of FilmFour’s remaining assets — its completed films and its development slate — while the company is being shut down. Part of his role is to ensure a smooth transition for those few projects, such as Ramsay’s “Lovely Bones,” that the web has decided to retain for its new inhouse film unit. But isn’t that what FilmFour chief exec Paul Webster is still there to do? This has prompted speculation within FilmFour that Mason himself is being positioned to head the new unit, though C4 execs are denying it. Nonetheless, his presence seems to imply the unit might have a broader international scope than the low-budget Britpic remit previously signaled. Otherwise, the betting is that producer Andrea Calderwood or C4 drama chief Tessa Ross will get the gig.

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