Image realizes Celluloid Dreams

Indie DVD supplier, prod'n outfit make movie date

Image Entertainment, the feisty independent DVD supplier known for its eclectic catalog and expansive distribution operation, is gearing up for the next chapter in its life now that a planned merger with BTP Acquisition has crumbled.

Image has inked a three-film distribution agreement with independent production company Celluloid Dreams, furthering its premerger plans to focus more on feature film distribution. The agreement gives Image the North American distribution rights to "Far North" and U.S. rights to "The Color of Freedom" and "Emotional Arithmetic."

"The merger agreement was going to give us a consistent flow of feature films in addition to our own acquisition efforts," Image COO David Borshell said. "But now that the merger has been terminated, Image's business plan to buy more feature films on its own is once again one of our key initiatives."

"Freedom," which will be issued May 20 on DVD, premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival and stars Joseph Fiennes, Dennis Haysbert and Diane Kruger. The film is based on the true story of James Gregory, a white South African prison guard whose racist views were altered by his longtime prisoner, Nelson Mandela.

DVD release dates for the two other films in the deal — brokered by Celluloid president Hengameh Panahi and Image Entertainment U.K. managing director Wendy Rutland — have not yet been set. "Far North" is a dark thriller about two women's battle for survival in the remote Arctic tundra. "Emotional Arithmetic," which premiered in September as the Toronto International Film Festival's closing-night film, tells the story of the 35-year reunion of three people who formed a lifelong bond while housed at a World War II detention camp. Its cast includes Susan Sarandon, Gabriel Byrne, Max von Sydow and Christopher Plummer.

Image early last year said that it would step up its acquisition efforts in the feature film arena, but then came merger talks with financier and film producer David Bergstein's CT1 Holdings for a union with BTP Acquisition, which already owned a vibrant theatrical distribution company, ThinkFilm, and an international sales company, Capitol Films.

When the merger fell apart last month, CT1 terminated a DVD output agreement it had signed with Image in December, when the merger was still expected to close. That output agreement now is in dispute. Image is suing CT1 in Los Angeles Superior Court in an attempt to get the deal reinstated. In the meantime, the companies have reached an interim agreement that allows Image to continue to distribute ThinkFilm programming, including "In the Shadow of the Moon," released this week. Also coming soon is "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," due April 15 on DVD, Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD.

"A lot of people assumed that our only feature film initiative was coming from the merger, but clearly that's not the case," Borshell said. "We are definitely going to continue what we're doing on the special interest, music and Criterion Collection side, with a large push into feature films — which had been our plan all along."

Borshell said Image is looking at distributing as many as 50 feature films on DVD this year, both direct-to-video and theatrical.

"It gives us an opportunity to grow revenue," Borshell said. "Unfortunately, our special interest and general business is not growing, (but) when you layer a new initiative on top of your current initiative, it gives the company the opportunity for revenue growth."