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Inside Move: WB arthouse for Deutchman?

Di Bonaventura wants Fine Line vet to run show

Is Warner Classics an oxymoron or is it actually a possibility that big-budget Warner Bros. might delve into arthouse fare?

The studio has never had an arthouse division before, and though it isn’t frothing about the idea, president of production Lorenzo di Bonaventura has made it clear that he likes it and wants to create such a division.

Two months ago, he cut a deal by himself to bring Gillian Armstrong’s “Charlotte Gray” to WB from Britain’s FilmFour. That included an overall deal with FilmFour for low-budget indie product. So chairman Alan Horn has given him a greenlight to make an arthouse arm happen at his own pace.

Besides, WB is the last studio on the block not to have a specialty division, what with MGM turning United Artists into its arthouse.

Di Bonaventura is painstakingly looking at a number of approaches to run the division, but it’s not exactly clear that he knows whether he wants it to be acquisition-driven or production-driven. The buzz is that, like Paramount Classics, Warners is looking for the division to be a marketing and distribution arm rather than one focusing on production.

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Sources are pointing to Ira Deutchman, former president of Fine Line Features, as the prime candidate to run the show. Di Bonaventura has discussed the notion with Deutchman, but they’re still far from the negotiation stage.

Deutchman, who produced “54” and “Kiss Me Guido” after running Fine Line, may not be available. He oversees Redeemable Features with Peter Newman and Greg Johnson. The three have been floating the idea for several months of creating a specialized distribution company of their own.

If Warner is interested in hiring Deutchman, the next question will be whether it would let him run operations out of New York. (Deutchman is a die-hard New Yorker, who also teaches at Columbia U. and ran Fine Line Features out of New York until 1995.)

The hire could foster a little brotherly competition with Fine Line, which is a part of the Time Warner family. Deutchman left Fine Line on not the best of terms. He could be returning to Warner to show New Line (Fine Line’s parent) how to run an arthouse division his way.

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