Lions Gate gets ‘Affliction’ pic

Dark drama finds distributor

More than seven months after it first wowed festival audiences in Venice and Telluride, writer-director Paul Schrader’s dark psychological drama “Affliction” has found a domestic distributor.

Lions Gate Films has acquired all North American rights to the Largo Entertainment production, which stars Nick Nolte as a middle-aged smalltown sheriff whose life is coming unhinged.

While neither party would discuss the financial arrangement, Lions Gate is believed to be advancing a low seven figures, including P&A.

Based on a novel by “The Sweet Hereafter” author Russell Banks, the pic also stars James Coburn as Nolte’s elderly father, Mary Beth Hurt as his ex-wife, Sissy Spacek as his girlfriend and Willem Dafoe as his brother.

Lions Gate plans a late fall or Christmas release for the film, according to Tom Ortenberg, executive VP of Lions Gate Releasing. “We feel the picture is a strong Oscar contender in several categories and we will position the theatrical release to reflect that.”

“Affliction” originally had been earmarked to go out through a domestic distribution partnership spearheaded by Motion Picture Corp. of America co-founder Steve Stabler. Stratosphere, the Carl Icahn-backed outfit headed by Paul Cohen also vied for the rights.

According to Largo chairman Barr Potter, Lions Gate’s enthusiasm for the project was a key selling point. “We feel that passion will translate into a successful release of this very important American film,” Potter said.

Lions Gate president Mark Urman has a long association with both Schrader and his producer Linda Reisman. As senior VP of international PR at Dennis Davidson Associates, Urman handled publicity on all of Schrader’s projects for nearly nine years. Urman handled unit publicity on “Affliction.”

“It was my destiny to distribute this film,” Urman told Daily Variety.

Largo was to be a partner and key supplier for Stabler’s domestic distribution conglom — tentatively known as Destination Films — along with MDP/Behaviour. The venture is a complex arrangement including an insurance policy, bank debt and an equity investor.

But Largo’s Japanese parent company, JVC, reportedly grew tired of waiting for the Stabler deal to materialize, and insisted the company seek alternative distribution deals.

“It’s taking Steve a bit longer than we or he had anticipated to complete the financing for his company,” Potter said. “We felt it was important for a film of this quality to be released in time to take advantage of the Academy campaign.”

Largo is now seeking domestic homes for several of its other films, including John Carpenter’s “Vampires,” and Randal Kleiser’s “Shadow of Doubt,” according to sources.

“At the end of the day we have to do what is best for Largo and best for the pictures,” Potter said.

Stabler could not be reached for comment.

Along with a number of other ambitious foreign sales companies that financed costly productions without a U.S. partner, Largo has found the domestic market a tough nut to crack. However, the company, which recently laid off a number of development executives, has apparently learned from the experience.

“At this point it’s safe to say it’s unlikely Largo will not be involved with pictures that do not have a domestic distributor in place.”