Gaumont, Col TriStar to cut Gallic ties

PARIS — Gaumont and Columbia TriStar are ending their Gallic distribution joint venture after barely more than two years.

The two will go their separate ways in July, when their three-year joint distribution pact reaches its end, the companies said in a statement, citing a growing volume of releases and France’s “increasingly competitive marketplace.”

This is Gaumont’s second theatrical distribution rethink in as many years, after its 2004 split from Buena Vista Intl., which ended a 12-year partnership.

“It is time for us to have a structure devoted 100% to our films,” Gaumont CEO Franck Chorot told Daily Variety Friday.

Ironically, Gaumont Columbia TriStar Films (GCTSF) is France’s top distributor this year, with 18.5 million admissions. A run of Gallic successes — which in the first half of this year outshone Col’s U.S. fare — has helped put the company at the top of France’s distribution table, ahead of Fox, Warner Bros. and BVI, all of which run independent operations in Gaul.

Eric Brune, the joint venture’s managing director, said: “Thirty-three films a year were too many for one structure to handle. Since Gaumont is planning to increase its number of releases, it makes sense for us to separate.”

The French major will release 12 films next year, up from five in 2005 and 10 this year.

In a tally of the U.S. and French films released by GCTSF this year, Gallic fare comes out strongly — repping more than 50% of admissions.

However, “Casino Royale,” currently on around 750 French screens, is expected to match or even overtake previous Bond movie “Die Another Day’s” 4 million admissions in Gaul, tipping the balance in favor of U.S. fare by the end of the year.

So far this year, “The Da Vinci Code” has been the distrib’s biggest hit in France, with 4.1 million tickets sold.

But not far behind are a clutch of Gaumont successes: the sleeper hit “You’re So Handsome,” a bucolic romantic comedy starring Michel Blanc that sold 3.5 million tickets; Francis Veber’s Gad Elmaleh starrer “The Valet,” which notched 3 million admissions; Valerie Lemercier’s comedy “Palais Royal,” which posted another 2.7 million ticket sales; and the James Bond-style spoof “OSS117,” starring Jean Dujardin, which notched up 2.3 million admissions.

Joint venture will still be in place for the May release of “Spider-Man 3″ and Gaumont titles including Regis Wargnier’s “Seeds of Death,” out Jan. 24.

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