Hollywood Video bows First label

Rites fetes tyro helmers

SYDNEY — Films from new and emerging U.S. directors will get wide exposure on homevideo next year with the launch of the First Rites label at 750 Hollywood Video stores.

The initiative comes from Australian entertainment firm Tribe, which pioneered the First Rites concept by showcasing tyro Oz helmers Down Under in October.

In an exclusive deal with the U.S. retailer announced Thursday, 10 new films from U.S. helmers will be released at Hollywood Video outlets in January, and six titles per month thereafter.

“First Rites is the latest and possibly most exciting development in Hollywood Video’s commitment to independent film,” Jeff Yapp, president of Hollywood Entertainment Corp. said.

“We’re exposing our customers to a wealth of strong independent features (and) providing an outlet for first-time filmmakers to continue to pursue their passion for their art.”

The retailer is heavily supporting the First Rites product with dedicated space in the Hollywood Video Premiere Wall, coverage in its in-store publication and broadcasts, and via its Web site, on which directors will be available to discuss their works.

The initial releases will include “Fashionably L.A.,” former model Tamara Olson’s mockumentary about fashion models starting on the lowest rung of the glamour ladder; “Green,” Karl T. Hirsch’s dramedy about twentysomethings who wonder why their lives have not turned out as they’d hoped; “Chicks, Man,” toplining Robia LaMorte of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”; and “Anarchy TV,” satire starring Alan Thicke and the Zappa siblings, Dweezil and Moon Unit, about cable TV anarchists who tangle with an evil televangelist.

In the U.S., Tribe is partnered with L.A.-based producer-distrib the Asylum. Launched last year by former Village Roadshow Pictures execs Sherri Strain and David Rimawi plus filmmaker David Michael Latt, Tribe is sourcing product for the venture and handling marketing.

Tribe chairman-CEO Milt Barlow has just done a deal in Canada to intro the First Rites label for Canuck helmers and he’s negotiating a similar arrangement with a U.K. company for new British pics.

Concurrently, Barlow is developing plans for an international First Rites stream of product for Australia, the U.S., Canada and the U.K., which will feature films from countries excluding the host territory.

Barlow tells Daily Variety that Hollywood Video will preem the international label mid-year. “Young directors the world over face the same problems — a lack of distribution and promotion,” he said. “Attendance at film festivals clearly shows the viewing public is looking for new, fresh films, and through First Rites, we can give them what they’re looking for.”

Asylum’s Strain added, “We are looking for films that make a statement and filmmakers who have a vision. These are films we’ve seen in festivals, screenings we’ve been invited to, and tapes sent our way. First Rites is just the first step for these films — we intend to expose them to the world.”

In the U.S., a portion of every rental fee will be donated to a First Rites film development fund, which will be allocated to future first-time and emerging filmmakers. This mirrors a similar program in Australia.