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United Artists

MGM unit is 'Bowling' for another breakout

GM’s arthouse division rewrote the rules for theatrical documentary releases with the $21.5 million gross of “Bowling for Columbine,” Michael Moore’s Oscar-winning look at gun control and violence in U.S. society.

But the company suffered a blow when Christmas release “Nicholas Nickleby” was squeezed out of an overcrowded marketplace despite warm reviews.

UA has been less active in production than anticipated when Bingham Ray took the helm and also relatively quiet of late on the acquisitions front. The division now badly needs a hit or at least a steadier stream of product to boost its profile in the marketplace.

It faces a further challenge having just lost its marketing chief Dennis O’Connor to the new HBO theatrical arm.

Label has a lot resting on the fall release of “Pieces of April,” which took an uncommonly circuitous route toward acquisition. Thanksgiving family drama originally was set up as a $6 million UA feature, but MGM pulled the plug shortly before shooting in Canada. It was swiftly reassembled as a low-budget DV InDigEnt project with the same high-profile cast, eventually finding a home back in the MGM fold with a $3.5 million worldwide deal.

Exec ranks: Bingham Ray, prexy; Danny Rosett, exec VP; Sara Rose, senior VP, production and acquisitions; Jack Turner, VP, production and acquisitions

First looks: Single Cell Productions (Michael Stipe and Sandy Stern); Crossroads Films (Dan Lindau); Revolution Films (Michael Winterbottom, Andrew Eaton); Potboiler Films (Simon Channing-Williams); Mr. Mudd (John Malkovich, Lianne Halfon and Russ Smith); Project X (Victor Salva, Nevin Densham); Streamline (Marco Weber)

Recent pickups: “Together” (Toronto); “Pieces of April” (Sundance); “Osama” (Cannes); “The Undertow” (Cannes)

Year at B.O.: Top grosser: “Bowling for Columbine” ($21.5 million); lowest grosser: “City of Ghosts” ($345,947)

Kudo watch: For “Pieces of April,” UA plans to tout pic’s original screenplay by Hedges, who was nominated last year for “About a Boy,” and supporting actress Patricia Clarkson. If the film takes off, other categories may be explored. “Osama” will be the Afghani entry in the foreign film category; UA’s release campaign will coincide with an Academy campaign for a nom.