Arthouse distrib Cowboy shutters

Future of pix remains uncertain

After an acrimonious split of a short-lived partnership between Lot 47 chief Greg Williams and Cowboy Pictures co-founder John Vanco, the latter specialty distribution unit has shuttered operations and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

“We’ve had a great run and I’m extremely proud of the wonderful films we’ve brought to audiences across North America,” said Vanco in a statement. “Cowboy could have never grown into a full-fledged company without the efforts of many talented people, and I wish to take this opportunity to salute my former partner Noah Cowan and the talented and passionate employees who worked with us, especially Julie Fontaine, Emily Gannett and Sarah Finklea.”

Vanco expects to announce new plans in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, the commercial fate of titles on Cowboy’s upcoming release slate including recent pickups like Elliot Greenebaum’s “Assisted Living” and Jonathan Kesselman’s “The Hebrew Hammer” remains uncertain, as does distribution of the company’s back catalog.

Having been under financial distress for some time, Cowboy sought a solution by partnering in May with Williams, who retained his Lot 47 releasing label even though that banner had been largely inactive since 2002.

While neither partner was willing to supply details due to legal restrictions, the collaboration between Vanco and Williams is understood to have turned sour soon after it was formed. Cowboy sent staff home and closed its office Oct. 10 and filed for bankruptcy in New York on Friday.

Lot of surprise

“All I can say is that Lot 47 continues in full operation and that’s been uninterrupted,” Williams told Daily Variety. “I was informed much to my surprise that lawyers for Cowboy have filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and that the Cowboy offices have been empty for a week.”

Founded in 1997 by Vanco and Cowan, Cowboy has handled more than 40 theatrical releases, finding success with docu features such as “The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition,” “Down From the Mountain” and “Promises.”

The company released David Gordon Green’s debut, “George Washington”; Catherine Breillat’s “Fat Girl”; Shohei Imamura’s “Warm Water Under a Red Bridge”; and Lynne Ramsay’s “Morvern Callar” as well as handling theatrical reissues including Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai” and Jean Cocteau’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

“It’s a sad day because we feel strongly that Cowboy had great taste and integrity and they were always wonderful to work with,” said Mike Maggiore, programmer and publicist at New York’s Film Forum, which played a number of Cowboy releases including docu “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg,” one of the venue’s biggest hits of recent years. “We hope we’ll see the principals of Cowboy resurface in the industry and bring more great films to American audiences.”

Group effort

Vanco and Cowan built Cowboy to become part of a network of like-minded distribution boutiques including Zeitgeist, New Yorker, Strand Releasing and Kino Intl. that developed a reputation for passionate commitment to specialty films and for working within the same niche market as colleagues rather than competitors.

In addition to its theatrical releases, Cowboy curated and toured retrospective programs in collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art, the Film Foundation and various major studios. The company accumulated a library of almost 400 titles including the majority of key films from Kurosawa, D.A. Pennebaker and Ingmar Bergman.

Cowan withdrew from the company in an amicable separation in 2002.

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