Canadian film houses make three-year deal

Overture Films has tapped Toronto-based Alliance Films as its Canadian distributor through 2010.

Three-year deal gives Alliance rights in all media in Canada to Overture’s slate. Caper comedy “Mad Money” will be the first pic under the pact, with a Jan. 25 release date — the same as the U.S. release.

It’s also Overture’s first release, coming 15 months after the company’s official launch.

Move comes a week after Summit Entertainment inked a deal with new theatrical player Entertainment One for distribution in Canada and the U.K. A few weeks earlier, Robert Lantos’ newly minted Maximum Films signed a deal with IFC to handle the latter’s pics in Canada.

Overture CEO Chris McGurk told Daily Variety that he talked to several of the top players, including the new distribs, in Canada before settling on Alliance as the Canuck home for Overture’s pics.

He said the possibility of a deal with Alliance first emerged in discussions at last year’s Cannes Film Festival — a few months before Overture officially launched as part of John Malone’s Liberty Media — with Overture’s Danny Rosett and Alliance’s Charles Layton closing the pact.

“We have had a long relationship with (Alliance topper) Victor Loewy,” McGurk said. “He has the top theatrical business in Canada. He’s really the man. We thought Alliance was the way to go up there. Alliance is one-stop shopping, with theatrical, video and pay. There are just huge advantages that they have.”

Overture announced earlier this year that its international distribution would go through Paramount Vantage and Paramount. Alliance will release the Overture pics in Canada — which generates about 10% of the overall domestic grosses — on the same day as U.S. openings.

Loewy cited his long relationship with McGurk — which stretches back to McGurk’s days at Disney — as a key reason his company inked the deal with Overture.

“They’re a very important new player and have a very impressive backer in Liberty Media,” Loewy said. “And we’re looking to beef up our slate.”

Loewy indicated Alliance execs had speculated that the company would not be able to sign deals with both Overture and Summit.

“We felt Overture was the better fit,” he added. “They have big studio films, star-driven films, and that’s what we wanted.”

With the pact, Alliance will be set to release some 75 pics theatrically each year. Loewy said he doesn’t expect to sign any other major output deals in the near future given that the company has deals already in place with several studios, including New Line, Miramax and Focus.

Alliance — formerly an income trust called Motion Picture Distribution — was recently taken private by EdgeStone Capital and Goldman Sachs, and Loewy said the new company will be able to act more quickly and aggressively under the new ownership structure.

“They’re giving us the financial means to achieve what we need to,” said Loewy. “Under the income trust, we were limited because we had to pay out dividends. This will allow us to be more entrepreneurial.”

McGurk said Overture’s still looking to release up to a dozen pics per year eventually, but noted that as a startup, the shingle’s not obliged to reach that number immediately. And he added that Overture’s not planning to greenlight films in reaction to a possible actors strike next year.

McGurk noted the 2008 slate will have at least seven films on it, with “Ferris Wheel” likely to come out in March and Toronto acquisition “The Visitor” probably set for a spring opening. He’s hoping to release Al Pacino-Robert De Niro starrer “Righteous Kill” in late spring.

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