Alliance roars

Ondaatje, Arcand projects top bolstered slate

CANNES — After many years of following a strategy of cautious restraint, Canadian minimajor Alliance Communications has inked a string of production and distribution deals, dramatically increasing the TV-centric company’s feature film profile.

The company best known in the film business for its relationship with two high-profile helmers — David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan — has new projects with directors Shane Meadows, Denys Arcand and Norman Jewison.

Alliance has acquired a slew of new material for its various film divisions, including books by Michael Ondaatje (“The English Patient”), Mordecai Richler (“Joshua Then and Now”) and Brian Moore (“Black Robe”).

The company is finalizing the first two production deals for its Alliance Pictures film division, with UK outfits Focus Films and Natural Nylon.

Nylon, the production company of Brit actors Ewan McGregor, Jude Law and Jonny Lee Miller, among others, is already co-producing Alliance’s current Cronenberg pic “Existenz.”

And, Alliance has made a number of new distribution deals for various films, including “Existenz,” which Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group has picked up for Australia, New Zealand, Scandinavia, South Korea, South Africa and various smaller territories in Eastern Europe and South East Asia.

Alliance Communications chairman and CEO Robert Lantos says that the company remained focused on its core policy of forging alliances with auteur filmmakers.

“We’re operating on a larger, broader scale,” he says. “But we’re not going to graduate to franchise movies or blockbusters. We’re going to continue filling a void with serious films for serious audiences.”

Lantos admits that both Los Angeles-based Alliance Pictures, and Alliance’s UK distribution company, Alliance Releasing, had taken longer than expected to gear up. That will now change. “The company has grown and become stronger,” he claims.

Alliance Pics has acquired the feature film rights to Ondaatje’s pre- WW2 Toronto-set drama “In the Skin of the Lion;” Richler’s comic satire “Barney’s Version;” and Moore’s “The Statement,” about a war criminal on the run in the South of France.

Norman Jewison will direct the film version of “The Statement.” No screenwriter is currently attached.

Arcand (“Jesus of Montreal”) will next direct the drama “15 Moments,” according to Lantos. Pic, which will be produced by Denise Robert, is described as a “provocative look at celebrity-mad culture.” Shooting starts in Montreal this Fall.

Alliance’s two-picture deal with Meadows, whose debut was the gritty drama “Twentyfourseven,” will begin with Meadows’ original script “A Room for Romeo Brass,” the coming-of-age story about two working-class boys struggling to become men.

Alliance’s deal with Meadows is via George Faber and Charles Pattinson’s Company Pictures, in which Alliance is a shareholder. Company will produce the pic together with the BBC. Subject to Arts Council lottery money, Alliance will finance the pic and handle worldwide distribution, with the exception of UK television.

Pic was written by Meadows and Paul Fraser, and Bob Hoskins is attached to star. Shooting begins in September.

Alliance Pictures’ drama “Sunshine,” directed by Istvan Szabo, rolls in Budapest on July 15. Joining Ralph Fiennes in the cast are Jennifer Ehle, Rachel Weisz, Molly Parker, Rosemary Harris, Miriam Margolyes and James Frain.

The deals with Natural Nylon and Focus Films, which are under negotiation, would significantly increase the product flow to the sales division Alliance Pictures International and UK distrib Alliance Releasing.