Universal Pictures buys stake in Cattleya

Uni takes minority stake in producer; Focus inks own pact

LONDON -- Universal Pictures has taken a minority stake in Italian production banner Cattleya, while Focus Features International, Uni's recently realigned international sales unit, will partner with the shingle to develop, co-produce and distribute its films.

Universal Pictures International will distribute a minimum of two films a year in Italy as a result of the two pacts, the parties said Monday. The deal marks the first time that a major U.S. studio has invested directly in a local production company in Italy, according to Universal.

Rome-based Cattleya is headed by Riccardo Tozzi, Giovanni Stabilini and Marco Chimenz, with producer Francesca Longardi leading development. Recent output includes last year's Donatello winner "Mio Fratello E Figlio Unico" (My Brother Is an Only Child) and the Oscar-nominated "La Bestia nel Cuore" (Don't Tell).

The first film released through the Universal/Cattleya deal will be Umberto Carteni's "Diverso da Chi," starring Luca Argentero and Claudia Gerini, on March 20. The companies also have agreed to co-produce Luis Prieto's "Meno Male che ci Sei," starring Claudia Gerini and Chiara Martegiani, which is currently in production.

Under the new partnership, Universal and Cattleya also have inked a separate deal that calls for Universal to handle Italian theatrical and home entertainment distribution on titles financed by Cattleya or, alternatively, for the companies to co-produce pictures together. Focus Features International's sales arm also ha first option to handle international distribution on all future Cattleya films.

FFI co-CEO Christian Grass and FFI senior vp Clare Wise, who have been spearheading the effort through Universal's international production group, will manage the relationship with Cattleya.

"This deal is a perfect example of what our company is all about -- an ongoing commitment to local filmmakers and producers who make movies that resonate not just locally but also with audiences around the world," Grass said.

FFA has slate agreements in place with Fernando Mereilles' 02 Filmes, Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo del Toro's Cha Cha Cha and Russian director-producer Timur Bekmambetov's Moscow-based Bazelevs Prods.