Sony has Gaul with Gaumont

Brune to o'see venture, 'Spider-Man 2' first out the gate

PARIS — In a seismic shift for the French film business, Disney has parted company with Gaumont, which has partnered with Columbia TriStar in a new joint distribution venture.

Split with Disney ends a 12-year partnership between France’s oldest film company and Buena Vista Intl. In recent years, the already wide gap between the pair had opened further.

BVI was France’s box office leader in 2003, as it has been practically every year for a decade, grossing $151 million.

With one or two exceptions, Gaumont has been down on its luck since the big-budget English-lingo pic “Just Visiting” plunged it into the red in 2001.

The new distribution entity, Gaumont Columbia TriStar Films France, will begin operating July 1. Eric Brune, currently general manager of Columbia TriStar Films France, will become G.M. of the joint venture.

Distrib’s first release will be “Spider-Man 2.”

“This new subsidiary of Columbia and Gaumont is yet another acknowledgement of the tremendous growth in the worldwide motion picture business,” said Jeff Blake, vice chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment. “With this move, we continue our long and fruitful collaboration with Gaumont. We look forward to combining our strengths to create a major distribution apparatus in France that is second to none.”

Added Nicolas Seydoux, chief executive officer of Gaumont: “Columbia Pictures is one of the foremost producers and distributors of quality motion pictures in the world today. The combination of their broad international experience and our knowledge of the French film industry looks to be a formidable union.”

New entity grew out of the two companies’ business relationship over the last 17 years for French homevideo. Col also handled U.S. and foreign distribution of Gaumont productions “Leon,” “The Fifth Element” and “Joan of Arc.”

Commenting on the divorce, BVI’s Larry Kaplan told Daily Variety: “Twelve years together was a whole geological period in the distribution business. It was our first deal back in 1991. But both we and Gaumont feel it makes sense for us to go our separate ways.”

Topper Jean-Francois Camilleri will continue to run BVI’s Gallic operation.

Kaplan nixed Gallic film industry talk that BVI may launch a French production company, like Warner Bros. France’s 2003 Prods. It was created so that the major could tap French film subsidy finance for Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s French-lingo pic “A Very Long Engagement.”

“It’s not true,” Kaplan said, quipping, “We’ve no plans to make $46 million French movies. Right now we’re dealing with the complexities of starting up our own organization in France.”

However, having made recent forays into co-production in Gaul with “Who Killed Pamela Rose?” and an Italian film co-produced with other European partners, “Remember Me,” Kaplan said the company was “interested in co-production opportunities” in France.

French sensitivity to the Hollywood majors’ moves in France has been fueled by the l’affaire Warner.

Many in the Gallic industry, along with the Centre National de la Cinematographie, France’s cinema center, have applauded the creation of WB’s 2003 Prods., believing it will boost local production. The funding the company receives has to be reinvested in French films.

But Gallic film groups and some independent producers’ associations don’t want to open up the French funding system to outsiders and have filed a lawsuit challenging it.

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