Dave Matthews expanding film company

Plans to release up to six pics a year via IDP partnership

CANNES -- Taking a page from the Adam Yauch playbook, it looks like rocker Dave Matthews is crashing the Hollywood party.

His ATO (Art Takes Over) Pictures is expanding from financing and production of indie films into the domestic distribution field. The New York-based film company, run by CEO Temple Fennell, plans to release theatrically four to six movies a year through its new partnership with IDP, the distribution wing of Samuel Goldwyn Films. This slate will, like Yauch's Oscilloscope Laboratories, rely to some extent on acquisition titles.

ATO's first release, the Bruce Beresford-directed "Mao's Last Dancer," will be a co-release with Goldwyn through IDP. The true story of Li Cunxin's extraordinary journey from poverty to international stardom will open in the U.S. on Aug. 6.

"There is incredibly strong demand for films that are an alternative to the studio blockbusters," said Fennell. "Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer companies that have the wherewithal to finance and release these films. The supply of well-made, accessible films is not keeping up with the audience appetite. We believe this is the time to step into the ring as so many companies step out."

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ATO Pictures will be run by Fennell, Johnathan Dorfman, Peter Newman and Greg Johnson. Former Cinetic Media exec Sarah Lash has been hired as head of acquisitions. Dorfman, Newman and Lash are looking to Cannes to jumpstart new financing and acquisition deals.

"We want to be able to really add value to the increasingly challenging process of financing independent films in an industry that is currently undergoing enormous changes," said Dorfman. "We can provide a home for filmmakers where they, and their investors, can understand the potential of their film from the four revenue sources: theatrical, home video, television and foreign."

The company's principals hope to use the same ground-up, fan-based merchandising model they used to make the Dave Matthews Band the highest-grossing band in North America in the last decade and the third-highest-grossing band in the world.

"Our goal is to take the successful and groundbreaking core business model of our sister companies in the music industry and our access to a deep pool of marketing, publicity and strategic resources, and to apply that to independent film audiences across the country and around the world," said Fennell.

ATO Pictures, which Matthews co-founded in 2002 with Red Lights Management owner Coran Capshaw, has also cut a deal with Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment to distribute its films on DVD, Blu-ray, VOD and digital download. They founded ATO Records, which counts Radiohead, My Morning Jacket and Gomez as artists, three years earlier.

Samuel Goldwyn Films has released "The Squid and the Whale," "Super Size Me," "Elegy" and "Fireproof." The company currently has "Harry Brown" in theaters.