Departure deemed 'friendly and amicable'

ThinkFilm founder and prexy Jeff Sackman is leaving the indie distrib he built in 2001 with a coterie of former Lionsgate execs.

Sackman’s departure is not surprising, insiders say, given recent developments within the company.

In late 2006, Los Angeles-based entrepreneur David Bergstein and mogul Ron Tutor’s Capco bought ThinkFilm for an undisclosed amount. Bergstein made no secret of his intentions to anchor the company in New York and Los Angeles, with the Toronto office focusing on Canadian distribution.

Sackman, who’s based in Toronto, characterized the parting as friendly and amicable. “It comes down to a number of things,” he said. “The functions of the Toronto office are transitioning to L.A. We’ve shut down our Canadian operation, and I decided this era is over for me.”

To comply with Canadian laws on foreign ownership, ThinkFilm made an exclusive output deal with Canuck distrib Entertainment One and its affiliate Seville Pictures in March.

The deal, which covers titles in Canada through 2010, also includes Think’s library of some 235 titles, including docs such as Academy Award winners “Taxi to the Dark Side” and “Born Into Brothels,” Oscar nominee “Spellbound,” as well as critically acclaimed arthouse fare such as “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” and “Half Nelson.”

Once the deal with Entertainment One was completed, Sackman said there was little reason to keep the Toronto office going. It’s unclear how long it will remain open.

Bergstein and ThinkFilm’s head of U.S. distribution Mark Urman declined to comment.

It has been anticipated that with fresh funds from Capco, Think could start making plays for larger acquisitions, perhaps leaving the edgier arthouse fare for more intrepid distributors. Still, Sundance 2008 pickups such as “Phoebe in Wonderland,” “Momma’s Man,” “The Escapist” and “The Last Word” don’t seem to signify a major vision change for the distributor.

Sackman was vague about his next move but indicated his intention to consult for ThinkFilm at least for the foreseeable future and said he would remain in Toronto.

“We were able to succeed in a nontraditional way,” Sackman said, “and succeed in Canada with a primary focus in the United States. It just shows it doesn’t matter where you are but what you do and who you’re with.”

Sackman is no stranger to startup operations. After joining distrib Cinepix Film Properties, exec veep Sackman moved the company into U.S. distribution in the ‘90s. Cinepix merged into Vancouver’s sales and distribution firm (then named) Lions Gate Films in 1998, with Sackman as prexy. Under his tenure, Lions Gate Films moved into the U.S. and revenues for the publicly traded company grew from $6 million to $125 million. Lions Gate Entertainment moved offices to the U.S., and Jon Feltheimer was appointed prexy in 2000; Sackman left the film division to create ThinkFilm.

From inception, Think’s strategy was to distribute movies in the U.S. The location of its headquarters simply reflected owners Sackman and Robert Lantos’ desire to continue to live in Canada. ThinkFilm’s Canadian ties allowed it to distribute in-country.

“Think will continue on its path, and life will unfold how it does,” Sackman said. “I’m an entrepreneur; I built this company and worked like a dog. I’m going to take a couple of breaths.”

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