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U.K. indies hang on

Alternative delivery systems help boost niche fare

Buried

The U.K. remains a more competitive and crowded market than many other foreign territories. Rising box office, resilient DVD sales and emerging revenues from VOD counterbalance the perennial difficulty of selling to free and pay TV.

The most recent indie hits include E1’s “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” and Icon’s “Paranormal Activity” last fall. Entertainment, Momentum and Lionsgate have enjoyed some ups and downs, but box office pickings have been slim in 2010 to date for the indies. Revolver, Metrodome, Optimum and Artificial Eye have exploited genre and arthouse niches with some success, but Metrodome’s recent decision to cut back its theatrical business highlights how tough it is for indies to operate in the U.K.’s expensive cinema market.

E1, riding high thanks to its Summit output deal that delivered the “Twilight” franchise, has earned good results from low-budget Brit fare, notably the surprise Christmas hit “Nativity,” which overcame critical snobbery to earn $8.3 million. “It’s made us think it’s worth a low-risk investment in British films that are commercially minded,” says E1’s Alex Hamilton.

Unashamedly populist local efforts such as Entertainment’s “St. Trinians 2” and Lionsgate’s “Harry Brown” also posted robust figures. Further down the budget and box office scale, Revolver has generated healthy returns by using guerrilla marketing tactics for its youth-oriented British films — “Shank,” “Dead Man Running” and “The Infidel.” Yet acclaimed Brit kudos contenders such as “Nowhere Boy,” “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll” and “Fish Tank” largely failed to connect with audiences.

Success in the foreign-language market, on the other hand, still depends on critics and awards, as Metrodome proved with “I Am Love,” Optimum with “A Prophet” and Artifical Eye with “The White Ribbon.”

Total 2009 box office: $1.46 billion

Total 2009 releases: 365

Top 2009 indie film: “Slumdog Millionaire” (Pathe), $46.3 million

Top 2010 indie pickups:

• “Pitch Black 3,” E1

• “Chalet Girl,” Momentum

• “Buried,” Icon

• “Julia’s Eyes,” Optimum

• “Trust,” Lionsgate

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