Independent Distributor GKIDS Makes Its Mark With Two Oscar Nominations

"A Cat in Paris"

Two animated-film nominations -- for "Chico & Rita" and "A Cat in Paris" -- put the micro-distributor on the map.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

This year's surprising animated films Oscar lineup shook up the status quo. Missing from the list are such powerhouses as Pixar (Cars 2), Sony/Aardman (Arthur Christmas) and Fox/Blue Sky (Rio). Instead, GKIDS Films, a tiny New York-based distributor, earned spots for both of its entries: Chico & Rita, a very adult romance largely in Spanish and set against the story of how Cuban music mated with jazz; and A Cat in Paris, a fanciful tale of a young Parisian girl, her cat and a wild night of adventure that involves a cat burglar as well as comic mobsters. Eric Beckman, who heads GKIDS, was as surprised as anyone. "I never thought we'd get two," he says. "It's never happened to an independent."

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And GKIDS is about as indie as an indie gets. The company grew out of the New York International Children's Film Festival, a nonprofit Beckman founded in 1997 to showcase movies for young kids and teens. In the process, he says, he became convinced there "is a huge hole in the U.S. market for handmade, mostly auteur-driven animated movies because the animated market here is so dominated by expensive-to-produce, expensive-to-distribute movies."

Spun off as a separate, for-profit entity, GKIDS tested the waters with the Celtic-scored The Secret of Kells, an Oscar nominee in 2010. But that film never played on more than 37 screens, collecting just $676,775.

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Beckman is convinced his two current nominees have a lot more potential than that. Under the company's Luma adult label, Chico begins a platform rollout Feb. 10 in New York. Cat will arrive in May, first in a subtitled version and then, to reach a larger kids audience, in one that is dubbed