Lionsgate primes Meridian bow

New DVD label to focus on art house, specialty fare

Lionsgate is going highbrow. Having carved successful niches for itself in the family, fitness and horror categories, the independent film company and DVD supplier now is taking square aim at the art house market.

The studio is planning a spring launch of the Meridian Collection, a new branded label for groundbreaking films from around the world. Lionsgate plans to release two high-end DVDs every three months drawing from its own library, which includes more than 2,000 European films from Studio Canal.

"Because of our relationship with Studio Canal and looking at our own library, we thought there was an opportunity to present discerning consumers with these acclaimed and influential films," said Anne Parducci, executive vp marketing at Lionsgate.

The new label launches June 3 with the release of "Diva" and "The Red Violin," both from France.

"Diva" is the stylish cult thriller with which director Jean-Jacques Beineix launched the "Cinema du look" movement in 1981, known for its slick visuals and alienated characters. The film follows a young postal worker who illegally records a concert by a reclusive opera singer, which leads to a world of danger and intrigue.

"Violin" (1998), which won an Oscar for best original score, stars Samuel L. Jackson as an appraiser who traces the storied history of a prized violin across numerous countries and generations.

Parducci said that with the Meridian Collection, Lionsgate is specifically targeting fans of art house films. That's why the extras tend to be focused on the making of the film, with little room for gimmicks, games or frills.

"We want to be able to capitalize on the fact that there are consumers out there who have an affinity for specific films," Parducci said. "These are really the definitive presentations of these movies: We're taking what that film is known for and why it is considered influential and then exploring that further through the special features."

"Diva," for example, is known for "how visually arresting it is," Parducci said, "so we are taking a deep dive into that style through interviews with the director, the director of photography and the set designer."

"Diva" also includes interviews with the composer and cast members as well as a scene-specific audio commentary with Beineix. The "Violin" DVD includes a musical feature with composer John Corigliano and a documentary on violins and violin auctions.

The Meridian Collection is one of three new labels at Lionsgate. The first, the Director's Series, launched last year with a boxed set of early movies by Alfred Hitchcock. Another new line, the Celebrity Series, launches June 10 with the release of boxed sets of movies starring Sophia Loren and Catherine Deneuve.

Parducci said branded lines with clearly marked packaging encourage collectibility and stimulate consumers to buy films they otherwise might not be prone to pick up.

"It helps build awareness, both among retailers and among consumers," she said. "There's a flow to it, and if we're able to convert consumers from being buyers of particular films to buyers of the entire collection, then obviously that's the upside."