Former Miramax topper tapped for top gig

Looking to punch up and expand its slate, National Geographic Films has tapped former Miramax president Daniel Battsek as its new prexy, starting March 15.

The widely expected move was announced Wednesday by the exploration-conservation brand’s film division, best known for “March of the Penguins.”

Battsek replaces Adam Leipzig, who ankled two weeks ago after half a dozen years in the post. At that point, the British-born Battsek — who oversaw such titles as “The Queen” and “No Country for Old Men” at Miramax — was in talks as his replacement.

The changeover comes at a time of transition for National Geographic Films, which is slightly more than a year into a joint venture with Imagenation Abu Dhabi to finance feature films, committing $100 million for 10-15 features over the next five years — giving Nat Geo the resources to acquire and distribute arthouse and world film titles along with producing its own films.

The Way Back,” the true story of soldiers’ escape from a Siberian gulag, is in production, with Peter Weir writing and directing in the first film funded by the joint venture.

David Beal, the head of parent National Geographic Entertainment, touted Battsek’s hiring as a way to transform the film division. “We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished so far with National Geographic Films, and we’re thrilled to have Daniel Battsek, a true leader in the international film production and distribution community, take us to the next level,” said Beal, who made the announcement Wednesday.

Battsek, who had announced his departure from Miramax in October, will report to Beal and be responsible for development, production, acquisitions and distribution.

During his four years at Miramax, other pics Battsek oversaw include “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” “There Will Be Blood” and “Doubt.” Prior to joining Miramax, he was exec VP and managing director of distribution and production for Disney’s Buena Vista Intl. U.K.

Biggest success of Leipzig’s tenure came with 2005′s “March of the Penguins,” which it distribbed with Warner Independent. “Penguins,” acquired at Sundance, grossed more than $125 million worldwide.

National Geographic Films’ recent releases include Cherien Dabis’ “Amreeka” and Lu Chuan’s “City of Life and Death,” which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and is due to open this spring.

As for Miramax, Disney announced in the fall that it was slashing the number of films the company releases to three a year from the six to eight it previously had on its sked.

Company also announced that it was folding much of its operations — marketing, distribution, operations and administrative support functions — into the Mouse House’s larger film group.

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