Setting an ambitious agenda for 1991, the newly christened First Independent Films aims to release 12 to 14 films theatrically and 36 to 40 titles on homevideo.

While the moniker is new, the company, formerly Vestron’s U.K. film and video outpost, has been active on the acquisition trail since it was acquired by HTV Intl. for £ 6.68 million last May. HTV Intl. is a subsidiary of British broadcaster HTV.

The release roster includes three Ed Pressman productions – “Iron Maze,” “Homicide” and “Year Of The Gun” – Nelson’s “City Slickers,” British pic “Let Him Have It,” Vestron trio “Fear,” “Catchfire” and “Over Her Dead Body” (a.k.a. “Enid Is Sleeping”) and, due for delivery in early 1992, David Cronenberg’s “The Naked Lunch.”

Also on the slate are two films produced by HTV’s subsid Harlech Films: John Irvin’s “Eminent Domain” and David Drury’s “Dylan.”

HTVI chairman Patrick Dromgoole says the acquisition of First Independent is a key move toward developing a fully integrated tv, theatrical and video production/distribution business. He says that besides giving HTVI a longtime British distrib and library, it also brings in Vestron’s management, headed by Michael Myers.

“We’re producing three or four films [for cinema] per year, with the aim of moving up to six,” says Dromgoole. “We’re working on budgets of $4-to $5 million. We think that’s a safe investment, which means we will get back a little more than we spend.”

Through the various divisions, he points out, “We can now distribute product on film, videocassette and television in the U.K.”

The exec envisions First Independent moving at some point into foreign sales, to maximize the return on HTVI’s films. “Over the next few years I hope we can spread their activities abroad, where they have an excellent reputation,” he says.

Let the chips fall…

Myers is enthusiastic about having the backing of a blue-chip company in HTV, at a time when undercapitalized distribs are struggling for A-grade product – and for survival.

He and his team are advising HTVI on film projects, and he says the parent firm is eyeing the possibility of international co-productions and stakes in major European films.

Although the U.S. majors are maintaining a dominant position at the U.K. b.o., Myers opines that “when you have a good film, you don’t have any problem getting screens.”

His son and colleague Martin Myers points out that the mushrooming number of multiplexes across the country has been a boon to the business. On some films, the multiscreens account for 30% to 35% of the nationwide b.o., “And they allow your films to run [longer],” says the younger Myers.

Despite the recession, which has hurt the video rental business, sell-through is estimated to have grown by 10% last year. As evidence of that sector’s buoyancy, First Independent video-division m.d. Norman Dinesen reports Vestron sold 1 million copies of “Dirty Dancing” in the U.K. The company has a sell-through library of 250 titles, and is looking to add to that.