Radford, Frade locked in legal smackdown

MADRID — Nearly 15 months after Michael Radford suspended the shoot of “La Mula,” one week out from a wrap, the British director and Spain’s Alejandra Frade, the pic’s lead producer, remain locked in a legal slug-fest.

On Nov. 26, the London High Court’s Mr. Justice Langstaff dictated an injunction extension on “Mula,” forbidding lead producer Frade from distributing the film.

The latest of four interim injunctions, it runs through to at least Feb. 21.

“Mula’s” original temporary injunction, imposed Aug. 2 by a London High Court after Radford charged Frade with conspiracy, fraud, defamation and breach of contract, also prohibits Frade or the companies she uses from cutting or publishing any footage shot by Radford or advertising “La Mula,” said Mark Westaway, Radford’s lawyer at New Media Law.

Interim injunctions were successfully served on Nov. 4 and Nov. 9 to Andalusia’s Gheko Films Sur, owned by Frade and partner Bruce St. Clair, and their shingle Gheko Films, based just outside Madrid, Westaway said.

Addressing the London High Court in a Nov. 25 note, Raquel Perez Pedroche, a lawyer for Frade, claimed the injunction had been improperly served to Gheko Films Sur and that the London High Court did not have jurisdiction over “Mula” legal disputes.

By imposing an injunction on “Mula,” the London High Court crucially asserts jurisdiction over its Spanish release, Westaway argued.

While lawyers dispute jurisdiction, Frade is battling for “Mula’s” release in Spain.

On Sept. 1, Frade applied to the Icaa Spanish Film Institute for a “Mula” rating certificate.

Ignasi Guardans, then Icaa director general, signed documentation on Oct. 19 denying “Mula” a rating.

Based on information supplied by “Mula” backers, the U.K. Film Council and the Irish Film Board, Guardans argued “Mula” was not a completed movie; moreover, Radford did not recognize the film as his own.

On Dec. 3, “without pre-judging the root cause determining the denial of a ratings certificate,” new Icaa director general Carlos Cuadros overturned Guardans’ decision. Among his reasons was that the rejection was not made in due time, and was made by the wrong ICAA authority.

According to Frade, only a judge can decide on preventing the film’s commercial release.

Cuadros could not be reached for comment.

It seems anybody’s guess how this legal imbroglio play outs. But “Mula” certainly presents large ironies.

The first foray by Radford (“Il Postino,” “The Merchant of Venice”) into Spanish-language filmmaking, the Spanish Civil War comedy made headlines when Radford suspended its shoot Oct. 30, 2009.

“Mula” was subsequently cut by Gheko, which originated the project and brought Radford on board.

“La Mula’s” root problem, Radford maintained, was Frade’s failure to sign inter-party agreements and other documentation needed to unlock UKFC and IFB funding, allowing “Mula’s” British and Irish producers — Radford’s London-based Workhorse and Ireland’s Subotica Ent. — to cash flow their “Mula” commitments.

He could not continue to shoot, Radford went on, knowing that Gheko was stopping his company from paying the British crew and cameras, and the on-set vehicles Workhorse had procured from the U.K.

“Mula” has £1,092,437 ($1.68 million) in UKFC production funding still waiting to be invested in the film. Subotica has been granted $653,500 for post-production from the IFB, which is also making $65,350 available for Radford to complete “Mule’s” shoot.

While this funding still had to be channeled into the production, in June 2009 Gheko advanced Workhorse’s share of pre-production costs.

On Aug. 11, Gheko lodged a lawsuit with a Madrid Court reclaiming the loan, allegedly running to Euros253,434 ($331,238).

On paper a fully financed film, “Mula” has left multiple debts in Spain.

Frade said the Spanish crew had been paid, but some Spanish suppliers are pending part-payment, given a delay in delivery, and because the English and Irish co-producers have not put up their part of “Mula” financing.

Another large irony: “Mula” looks to have B.O. potential.

“What’s very sad is that ‘La Mula’ is a wonderful story, Alejandra Frade made exactly the right choice of director, and this is the film of Michael Radford’s life,” reiterated IFB chief exec Simon Perry.

After Spanish smash hit “Tres metros sobre el cielo,” “Mula” stars Mario Casas and Maria Valverde are Spain’s hottest on-screen item.

How, if disowned by Radford, “Mula” would fare in Spain, if released, and whether foreign distributors would ever touch it, remain, however, other questions entirely.

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