French film company receives $25 million

Wild Bunch, the French film company behind this year’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner, “4 months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days,” has raised e25 million ($34.1 million) in equity and launched a $150 million film finance venture with U.S. investment fund Continental Entertainment Capital.

CEC, an affiliate of Citi, is providing most of the new equity, with existing shareholder Iris Capital and Wild Bunch management putting up the remainder, the company said Tuesday. Under its new configuration, Wild Bunch remains around 66% European owned.

CEC and Wild Bunch are also forming an acquisition and co-production joint venture, with equity and debt totaling $150 million. Wild Bunch created a similar joint venture last year with Virtual Films.

Wild Bunch prexy Vincent Grimond said the company wants to invest in quality U.S. indie fare budgeted above $20.5 million, such as Steven Soderbergh’s “Che,” which started shooting in Spain in July, with Benicio del Toro as Che Guevara.

“We are not going to try to get the next mainstream comedy from New Line,” Grimond said.

Wild Bunch also has big-budget French fare in the works, including the English-language comicbook adaptation “Largo Winch” and “Mr. Nobody,” by Belgian helmer Jaco Van Dormael.

The new fund will start to operate later this month.

The equity deal with CEC also will fund Wild Bunch’s expansion plans. Company’s former Studio Canal management team, led by Grimond, has set its sights on turning the indie company into a full-fledged European studio with distribution in all the major territories.

While international sales still make up half of the company’s $68.2 million annual revenues, that has come down from 100% when the company was set up five years ago, and today French theatrical and video are also a major source of revenue.

Wild Bunch ranks third among French distributors so far this year, behind EuropaCorp and TFM. Claude Chabrol’s “La Fille coupee en deux,” currently on French screens, is headed for an admissions total of around 800,000, equivalent to a B.O. gross of $4.75 million.

Wild Bunch also has theatrical distribution in the Benelux countries via indie A Films.

“What attracted me to this company is the quality of the management,” said Benjamin Waisbren, CEC’s president and CEO. “They’ve always done what they said they would do and they know how to deal with capital markets in a sophisticated, educated way.”

The fund is looking for other investment opportunities in Europe, Waisbren said.

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