Indie scene swells with Oz distrib newbies

Icon stands as the market leader for '02

SYDNEY — Australia’s indie distribution scene expanded to incorporate two new midsize players in 2002 and witnessed an explosion of microdistribbers — with generally solid results.

Indie sector took in about 27% of the total $A845 million ($497 million) B.O. last year. Though the lion’s share of that percentage comes from local distrib Roadshow Film, which is officially an indie but with 21% overall market share wields studio-style clout. Roadshow hit the jackpot in 2002 with acquisitions of “The Lord of the Rings” franchise and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

Otherwise, Icon Australia and New Zealand was the indie market leader, earning more than $18 million from just three films: “Bend It Like Beckham,” “Gosford Park” and “We Were Soldiers.” Company was launched in March by Aussies Bruce Davey and Mel Gibson to handle the Icon properties and pickups Down Under. CEO Mark Gooder summed up the year thus: “I think there were more indie films but fewer standout successes.”

Hoyts Cinema loop unfurled Hoyts Distribution the same month, in part to handle pics from affiliated division Nine Films and TV. First pic from that partnership was ensemble caper “Dirty Deeds,” which nabbed a solid $2.9 million at the B.O. Shingle’s distrib co-venture with Signpost lasted just a few months before the latter folded.

Indie Becker Ent. revved up its slate after a slow patch, and arthouse division Dendy coasted off the back of bumper results for “Amelie.”

Foreign-lingo and Oz niche specialists Palace Films experienced a quiet spell, while the number of microdistribs flourished. Frank Cox rolled his NewVision shingle into Hopscotch with ex-Dendy topper Troy Lum. New Zealand’s Rialto entered the Oz market with arthouse pics such as “The Cat’s Meow,” and a co-distrib deal with Gary Hamilton’s Arclight Sales shingle for “The Kid Stays in the Picture” and “Roger Dodger.”

Gil Scrine Films, formerly a distrib of obscure docs, muscled in on the theatrical feature market with “Dinner Rush.” The Jewish Film Fest re-invented itself as a distrib and secured a theatrical release for “Fast Food, Fast Women.” And vid distrib Imagine Ent. minted $377,000 from a theatrical run of “Donnie Darko,” which it had intended to release straight to video.

According to Palace’s Tait Brady, a handful of factors –including the larger new players, Icon’s practice of inking single deals for the U.K. and Oz and market shopping by majors — has edged out some little guys. Still, Palace is poised to return to form in 2003 with acquisitions “Igby Goes Down,” “All or Nothing,” and local investment “Alexandra’s Project.”

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