The rights to the late Ingmar Bergman’s films are now owned by a company representing a theater in Aspen, Colo.
Last month a Colorado court awarded the rights to Swedish film giant Svensk Filmindustri’s catalog — including Bergman’s oevre — to Isis Litigation.
The decision ends an eight-year legal battle that began after Isis leased an historic building in Aspen to Resort Theaters of America, agreeing to develop it into a five-plex. Svensk, a part-owner of RTA, guaranteed the lease but refused to pay when RTA went bankrupt.
In 2003, Colorado District Court awarded Isis $5.9 million against Svensk, plus $850,000 in costs and fees.
However, Svensk has ignored every judgment entered against it in U.S. courts since then, inflating its debt to $10 million.
The U.S. does not have a treaty with Sweden to enforce judgments, and so far, Isis has collected around $500,000 by garnishing Svensk’s contracts with Stateside film companies including Sony and MGM.
That looks set to change.
In September the court appointed a transfer agent for Svensk’s intellectual property — a process finalized in December.
Isis is now considering how to obtain the highest value for the assets, including Bergman’s “Fanny and Alexander” and “Wild Strawberries,” as well as classics by Lasse Hallstrom and Ake Ohberg.
Isis attorney Jack Smith of Denver’s Holland and Hart said: “Svensk’s willingness to let this resource go is very difficult to understand. We believe that these films will be of interest to distributors and the general film audience. This is without a doubt an unprecedented event in the history of cinema, and the level of arrogance and indifference it took on the part of Svensk to get here is astonishing.”
Isis has launched a website, SwedishClassicFilms.com, that hosts links to distributors of Svensk’s former film catalog.
As for getting access to the pics since Svensk has refused to fulfill any of the previous court demands, Smith says, “Many of the films exist here in physical form, such as DVD, so we have access to those and a legal right to use them.”
Svensk, founded in 1919, is the leading distributor of film and video in Scandinavia. Svensk’s parent company is Bonnier Group, a European media conglom with publishing interests in the U.S.
Torsten Larsso, head of Bonnier Broadcasting and Entertainment, said the group “did not want to comment on the new developments until the Bonnier/Svensk experts have looked more in detail at it.”