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LONDON — Alliance Atlantis Motion Picture Distribution, the Canadian parent of U.K. distrib Momentum Pictures, has agreed to buy Spanish indie Aurum Prods. for E45 million ($54.5 million), as the first step in its strategy of expanding into other European territories.

Aurum is Spain’s most successful indie distrib largely thanks to “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. But its parent company, the family controlled media group Zeta, has long been exploring options to exit the film business.

Aurum held merger talks with Momentum in early 2003, which would have included the two companies jointly moving into Germany. But the plan quickly evolved into negotiations for a straight sale of the Spanish distrib.

The Spanish arm will report to Momentum’s management team in London, headed by managing director Xavier Marchand.

“This makes us one of the few independent distributors in the world that can acquire rights in three territories, giving the partnership a significantly increased presence in the market for film acquisitions from studios and leading independent producers,” said Marchand.

“We also intend to continue Aurum’s successful strategy of supporting exciting and innovative Spanish films for distribution in Spain and, where appropriate, Canada and the U.K.,” he added.

No major operational changes are planned at Aurum, although the new owners intend to bring its video distribution inhouse, instead of releasing via Columbia as is done now.

Aurum reported revenues of $118 million in 2003, and operating cash flow of $18 million. The company had a 6.5% share of Spanish B.O. last year.

Alliance raised more than $200 million last fall by floating 49% of its Motion Picture Distribution Group (of which Momentum is part). The terms of the IPO mean that it will have to return to the equity markets for fresh coin to bankroll the acquisition of Aurum, which will also be partly funded by an expansion of its credit facility from $100 million to $125 million.