Lionsgate whets appetites

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During a lunch reminiscent of the glory days of ShoWest, Lionsgate Films on Wednesday trotted out movie stars, famed directors and even a couple of comedians to a receptive audience of exhibitors.

The diversity of the indie studio's slate was on full display, from an earnest speech by William Friedkin — the award-winning helmer of the upcoming horror film "Bug" who spoke about the merits of maintaining a significant theatrical window — to the ebullient young "Pride" co-star Evan Ross introducing the heartwarming drama based on the life of swim coach Jim Ellis.

Tobin Bell, best known for portraying the villain Jigsaw in the lucrative "Saw" franchise, presented the ShoWest Award of Excellence in Producing to "Saw" producers Mark Burg and Oren Koules. A videotaped Jessica Alba bestowed on her "Good Luck Chuck" co-star Dane Cook the ShoWest Breakout Performance of the Year award. She spoke from the set of her horror film, "The Eye," slated as a 2007 Lionsgate release.

The surprise of the afternoon came from Larry the Cable Guy. The popular "red state" comedian and star of Lionsgate's upcoming "Delta Farce" charmed a resistant audience with nearly 10 minutes of stand-up comedy.

Also on hand to introduce films were WWE wrestling star Steve Austin, who will star in Lionsgate's "The Condemned," set to bow April 27. Action star Jason Statham introduced his upcoming film "War" to audiences, and "Hostel" director Eli Roth showed off a torture-filled clip from the upcoming "Hostel II."

The producing-directing team of James Mangold and Cathy Konrad presented a clip of "3:10 to Yuma," the Western starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale that Lionsgate president Tom Ortenberg called "a surefire awards contender."

AMC executive vp and film chairman Dick Walsh moderated the lunch. Cook said the veteran exhibitor looked like Kiss rocker Ace Frehley as he came onstage. Walsh tossed a few barbs at the studios while introducing lunch sponsors Dolby Labs, Christie's and MySpace. After Dolby accepted a sponsorship award and presented its product video, Walsh said: "That product reel was better than some of the things we've seen this week. Too bad Dolby isn't making motion pictures."

He went on to tweak MGM when he said, "It's the year of the lion. Might have heard the wrong lion tell you last year all the things they were going to do. This lion (Lionsgate) won the Academy Award in 2006 for best picture.

Walsh concluded the event, which also featured remarks from Lionsgate topper Jon Feltheimer and its president of distribution Steve Rothenberg, commending Lionsgate for its presentation.

"We saw a lot of violence, a lot of sex and some off-beat humor and Larry the Cable Guy. But there was not one scene in a Lionsgate movie where someone is smoking a cigarette," he joked. "This is one of the best programs we've ever had at ShoWest."
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