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Bergman tributes tied up in court

Litigation leaves limited access to director's films

It may be July, but don’t expect “Smiles on a Summer Night” — at least not in the U.S. “Cries and Whispers” of frustration may be more like it.

With the one-year anni of Ingmar Bergman’s death July 30, arthouse auds might have expected a slew of screenings of the great Swedish director’s works.

But long-running litigation between the Isis Theater in Aspen, Colo., and Swedish film giant Svensk Filmindustri, which holds the rights to virtually all Bergman-directed films, has thwarted pic access.

In 1997 Svensk began developing the Isis with Resort Theaters of America. Svensk guaranteed the lease but then refused to pay when RTA went bankrupt.

A Colorado court found in favor of Isis — but Svensk refused to hand over a cent toward the compensation, which now stands at $8.9 million with interest.

This month a Colorado judge gave Svensk until Aug. 22 to pay up or transfer the rights to its 1,200 title film catalog to Isis.

The problem isn’t lack of money. Founded in 1919, Svensk is the leading Swedish film production and distribution company and a subsidiary of Bonnier Group, a European media conglom.

The U.S., however, does not have a treaty with Sweden to enforce judgments, and so far Isis has managed to collect just $200,000 by garnishing Svensk contracts with Sony, MGM and Janus Films.

Torsten Larsson, head of Bonnier Broadcasting and Entertainment, Svensk’s parent company, says: “A court decision in Colorado means nothing in Sweden. We think that Isis acted in an unprofessional way. We have offered a settlement, but they were not interested. Obviously they feel there is more money to be made in trying to get the rights to the films.”

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