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Blackwatch sets up prod’n/distrib fund

Film co. to produce eight pix with $13.5 mil

TORONTO — Upstart Montreal-based film company Blackwatch Communications has set up a C$20 million ($13.5 million) production and distribution fund, financed by a major unnamed Canadian pension fund.

Under terms of the financing deal, Blackwatch will produce eight modestly budgeted pics over the next two years, including “The Hunter,” a Hong Kong-style action pic, and “Community,” a horror thriller. Blackwatch will take world rights to all the pics produced.

Some of the cash will also be used to beef up Blackwatch’s growing distribution activities. The company recently inked long-term output deals for Canadian distribution of films from Sony Pictures Classics and TV and video product from Trimark Pictures.

The new financing turns Blackwatch, previously a minor player on the Canuck scene, into a more significant producer and distrib in the Great White North. In addition, the company has inked a deal with Saban Intl. to produce six thrillers over the next 18 months. Blackwatch will take Canuck and U.S. rights to the pics, with Saban handling all foreign sales.

The first film under the Saban deal, “Artificial Lies,” begins lensing in Montreal today. Pic, directed by Rodney Gibbons, stars Jack Wagner and Daphne Zuniga.

Canuck ambition

“This deal is the single most important event ever for Blackwatch,” said Blackwatch president and CEO William Mariani. “But it is very important for us to stick to our No. 1 strength, which is to be very economical. But we want to be a major player in Canada.”

Mariani also announced that seasoned investment broker Pierre Colas will be joining Blackwatch as senior VP, with a mandate to raise additional financing for the company.

There are also plans to set up a film-financing division to help other companies navigate the funding system in Canada.

Blackwatch currently has three divisions: Blackwatch Prods., headed by president Kim Berlin; domestic distribution operation Blackwatch Releasing; and global sales unit Blackwatch Intl. The company’s L.A.-based film-sales vice president Marcie Rubin has just ankled the company, and Mariani has yet to name a replacement for her.

Blackwatch has domestic Canuck rights to eight pics at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival, including Tim Roth’s “The War Zone,” Agnieszka Holland’s “The Third Miracle,” Chris Smith’s “American Movie” and Frank Whaley’s “Joe the King.”