Local arm backing Armero-helmed comedy

MADRID — Columbia’s local arm is backing its second Spanish pic, an untitled comedy helmed by Alvaro Fernandez Armero (“The Art of Dying”).

It’s co-producing the E3 million ($3.8 million) project, starring Guillermo Toledo (“Both Sides of the Bed”) and Javier Gutierrez (“Ferpect Crime”), with Madrid-based Morena Films and broadcaster Telecinco’s production unit Estudios Picasso.

With a screenplay co-written by Fernandez Armero and Juan Cavestany, story turns on a troubled soccer referee whose reputation is threatened by his controversial decisions.

Iona De Macedo, Columbia Pictures’ senior VP of European productions will produce with Morena’s Pedro Uriol and Estudios Picasso’s Belen Atienza. Principal photography began Oct. 30.

Sony Pictures Releasing Intl. will release the film in Spain and handle international distribution.

This is the fifth project co-produced or co-financed by the European division of Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group.

It co-produced youth drama “Melissa P.,” one of the highest-grossing Italian films in 2005, teaming Bess Films and Francesca Neri in Italy and Pentagrama in Spain.

Columbia’s recent Euro projects include France’s Gaumont comedies “A Ticket to Space” and “La Doublure.”

Columbia Films Prods. Espanolas debuted in 2004 with Juan Calvo’s Paz Vega starrer “Say I Do,” a co-production with Zebra Prods., which grossed a strong $3.8 million.

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