Cecchi Gori back in ring with ‘Ali’

Italian distriber pays $5 mil for biopic rights

CANNES — Italian distributor Cecchi Gori Group has ponied up about $5 million to take all Italo distribution rights to Michael Mann’s biopic “Ali” from U.S.-based indie production and distribution company Initial Entertainment Group.

Deal, finalized during the Cannes Intl. Film Festival by IEG chief exec Graham King and Cecchi Gori president Gianni Nunnari, is significant for Cecchi Gori, as acquisitions activity has been on hold for more than a year while it struggled with cash-flow problems.

“After our success with ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ and ‘Heat,’ it is truly a dream to also be handling Michael Mann’s next picture, ‘Ali,’ ” Nunnari said.

Lining up territories

“Ali,” budgeted at $105 million, is being released by Columbia Pictures in North America, with IEG handling international territories. IEG previously inked deals with Shochiku in Japan, Manga in Spain, Entertainment Film Distributors in the U.K. and Bac Films in France. Pic is being produced by Jon Peters, James Lassiter, Paul Ardaji, Mann and A. Kitman Ho, with screenplay by Eric Roth and Mann.

CCG’s long-stalled sale of its loss-making TV networks is nearing completion, perhaps setting up the return of a more dynamic approach by the company’s film division.

CCG had been the market leader in Italy by a large margin but lost considerable ground in recent years, slipping to only 6% market share for the current season compared with current chief competitor Medusa’s 23%. The “Ali” deal marks a major bid to get back into the high-level acquisitions business.

Out of ‘Gangs’ chain

Its last major attempt at a pickup of this kind was a reported bid at Mifed last year for IEG’s “Gangs of New York” for $6 million; however, CCG failed to find financial backing to close the deal. IEG wound up selling Italo rights to 20th Century Fox Intl. for a reported $7 million.

CCG recently lost its veteran acquisitions exec Faruk Alatan, who defected to Medusa.