Distribution unit returns to roots

Motion Picture Distribution, the distribution arm of what was Alliance Atlantis Communications, is returning to its roots.

The company is being renamed Alliance Films under a new management team, headed by Canadian distribution impresario Victor Loewy, who co-founded the original Alliance Entertainment with Robert Lantos in the early 1980s.

“It’s absolutely a coming home; it’s very joyful,” Loewy said Monday. “It’s gratifying to be back.”

Former Miramax executive Charles Layton has been appointed prexy; Xavier Marchand, former managing director of MPD’s British division, Momentum Pictures and Spanish sister Aurum, is prexy of the international division.

Marchand was suspended from MPD in January “without cause,” according to Loewy, who said that Marchand continued to run the company from home, “even though he wasn’t supposed to do it. There was a big leadership vacuum in the interim period, so he did it anyway.”

Loewy himself has been intimately tied with the company from day one. His Alliance Entertainment became the largest production and independent distribution company in Canada until its sale in 1998 to rival Atlantis Communications, forming Alliance Atlantis Communications.

Lantos moved on while Loewy remained to head the distribution division, which was renamed Motion Picture Distribution. “It was a terrible name,” says Loewy.

Loewy has had his ups and downs with his former employers, most recently quitting 14 months ago.

But the tiff put in jeopardy an unknown number of MPD’s lucrative output deals, which include New Line, Miramax, Focus and the Weinstein Co., so Loewy was rehired as a consultant.

“I’m really glad that everything is behind us and we finally have a team in place, and we’re ready to start and ready to prove ourselves once again,” he said.

There’s still some housecleaning to be done. Alliance Atlantis Communications’ $2.3 billion sale to CanWest Global Communications and Goldman Sachs closed in August, and the company was broken up, with Goldman Sachs and Canadian partner EdgeStone Capital Partners, a private equity firm, taking on the distribution division.

That part of the transaction has yet to receive the greenlight from Heritage Canada, since Canadian distributors have to be controlled by Canadians.

Although it is unclear how much of the equity is held by Goldman Sachs and how much by EdgeStone, EdgeStone has the controlling interest in the company, Loewy said, including the majority of seats on the board and voting control.

That decision notwithstanding, Alliance Films is already on a shopping spree. The company is actively looking to acquire distributors to add to its stable, primarily in Germany and Scandinavia for now, but in other European countries later as well, he said.

In addition, Loewy and his colleagues are busy at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival, which runs until Saturday.

They are working to sign output deals with independent U.S. production companies as well as picking up individual films from Canadian producers for their Canadian operations and from Europeans for Momentum and Aurum.

Alliance Films is Canada’s largest independent distributor with a market share of between 15% and 23%, but Loewy must now compete with two of his former colleagues and closest protégés: Lantos, who recently hung out distribution shingle Maximum Films; and Patrice Theroux, who recently set up a distribution division for Toronto-based Entertainment One following its acquisition of Montreal-based Seville Pictures, a mid-sized distribution company.

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