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Euro distrib dreams

The path to pan-European distribution is strewn with good intentions — also emptied wallets and dented egos.

But that doesn’t deter some powerful French bureaucrats, who are calling on Gallic film heavyweights to set up a Euro-wide film distribbery to rival Yank ones.

French Culture Minister Jacques Toubon insists that the time is ripe for the Euros to make their move. That’s despite the fact that two high-profile attempts at setting up such a network have sputtered.

Italian producer Vittorio Cecchi Gori and TV tycoon Silvio Berlusconi came seriously unstuck with their Penta Europe project. Launched in 1992, Penta Europe effectively functioned for about 12 months.

Then there was Eurotrustees, a combo of five of Europe’s savviest players, including Palace Pictures’ Stephen Woolley and Nik Powell and Bac Films’ Jean Labadie. They intended to acquire jointly or co-produce pix that they would then release in their respective territories. That lasted two years.

Even Polygram’s move into European distribution, which took another step forward last week with the acquisition of Netherlands-based producer/distributor Movie Films Prods., has not been as rapid or trouble-free as some senior execs were hoping.

Stubborn plan

That the Europeans refuse to abandon the idea of setting up their own multiterritory distribution system is largely due to the fact that they have looked at the major American distributors and like what they see.

The European dream is to get their hands on juicy distribution revenues. “Basically we want the money that is in distribution, even if that means we have to take the whole prints-and-advertising risk,” says Polygram Filmed Entertainment’s president of international, Stewart Till.

By general consensus, Polygram has the best chance of cracking pan-European distribution. PFE has gradually acquired a string of production companies and now boasts A&M Films, Interscope Communications and Propaganda Films in the U.S. , Working Title in the U.K. and France’s Cinea, R Films and Noe Prods.

In search of good pix

That provides almost enough pix to feed an international distribution system if only the films were decent. Polygram’s pix such as “Candyman” or “Posse” have underwhelmed at the box office. There have been some upbeat noises made over Polygram’s 1994 slate, which includes “The Hudsucker Proxy,””Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Backbeat.”

Polygram now owns distribs Pan Europeene in France and MFP in the Netherlands and has a close relationship with Rank in the U.K.

Small line

Candidates willing to follow the Polygram experience are not exactly numerous. Question industryites about possibilities and the usual list of Canal Plus, Kirch, Bertelsmann, Bouygues and Chargeurs is on everyone’s lips.

Canal Plus, which owns film production arm Studio Canal Plus and a stake in Carolco, has always shown irritation at suggestions that it wants to get into distribution. Execs were not available to comment on the subject last week.

Meanwhile, Chargeurs is already involved. The giant French textiles group has a stake in leading Gallic indie distribbery AMLF, owns 95% of U.K. indie Guild and has a 10% share of Germany’s Tobis.

Good mood

One possible player is the Bouygues group’s film arm, Ciby 2000. Although the company has had a roller-coaster box office ride with some of its early films, the mood in the Paris headquarters is now upbeat thanks to the success of Jane Campion’s “The Piano.”

As yet, Ciby 2000 has no experience in distribution, but company topper Jean-Francois Fonlupt is not known to be a man who lets the grass grow under his feet.

Contacted last week, Fonlupt would say only that Ciby 2000 could be included in a list of companies interested in the idea of European distribution.

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