Summit, Participant ink five-year deal

Covers worldwide rights, including TV, home video

PARK CITY -- Summit and Participant have inked a five-year deal that will see the distributor release and potentially co-finance a group of Participant projects.

Under the deal, the Rob Friedman-Patrick Wachsberger outfit will release several Participant films each year, with Participant gaining the automatic option, or put, to release any movie it chooses through Summit. The company will handle worldwide rights for those titles, including television, home video and overseas theatrical, with the deal running through 2013.

The pact is nonexclusive, but Participant execs said they will distribute all their films through Summit unless a project they're producing is owned by another studio. Finished films acquired by Participant -- an area in which the company wants to expand -- also will go through the Summit deal.

The deal will offer Participant the holy grail of U.S. distribution at a time when theatrical releasing for indie production companies is more challenging than ever before.

"We're masters of our own destiny," Participant CEO Jim Berk said. "What this means is that we no longer need to rely on a studio or external financing to distribute our movies."

The pact also provides for Summit to potentially co-finance select Participant projects.

Participant, which has about 30 projects in development, produces pictures mainly in the prestige and political arenas; the company has had hits with such films as "An Inconvenient Truth" and "The Visitor" and is behind the upcoming Jamie Foxx drama "The Soloist."

Summit is known more for broadly commercial films like those in the "Twilight" franchise.

But Participant execs said they want to move slightly in the direction of more commercially minded movies with some of its titles, keeping the socially conscious themes in the film but relegating them more to the background.

Summit, for its part, says it believes that socially conscious films fit with its mandate, and could also work at the boxoffice. "A movie could have a message and still be very commercially successful," co-chairman Rob Friedman said.

Participant and Summit have a prior relationship, with the socially conscious banner owning an equity stake in Summit. The deal marks the second new distribution arrangement for Summit in the past few months; in December it inked a domestic theatrical and foreign sales deal with startup Vendome Pictures.