'Tree of Life' U.K. Distribution Lawsuit Is Settled (Exclusive)

Terrence Malick
Courtesy of Everett Collection

Malick's Palme d'Or winner "The Tree of Life" screens Oct. 8 and 12.

Tree of Life didn't win any Oscars, but the production company behind the Terrence Malick-directed film has put an end to a row over distribution of the film in Britain. On the eve of the Academy Awards, Cottonwood Pictures and Icon Film Distribution told a California federal judge that a settlement agreement had been reached and that the parties had agreed to drop their dueling claims.

The fight erupted in 2010 as Malick was completing the picture. According to the terms of a distribution agreement, Cottonwood, through its sales agent Summit International, was to deliver the film to Icon by a certain date, and in return, was to receive distribution guarantee payments.

Summit sent a "notice of delivery" to the wrong person before it corrected the error. But the remedy happened after the deadline, and Icon refused to pay a good portion of the $2.25 million advance that was owed.

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As the film later headed to the Cannes Film Festival, there was confusion over whether Icon would be distributing the film in the U.K.

The parties decided to go to arbitration. There, Icon argued that the delivery of the film hadn't happened properly and disputed whether the film was really "finished." The U.K. distributor argued that the picture had to be approved by the producer, director and star before being considered complete, and pointed to reports that producers were at odds with Malick, trying to "cajole" him into a shorter film.

Last November, arbitrator Jack Freedman handed Cottonwood a victory, ruling that Cottonwood and Summit had done what they needed to do, that Malick had posed no real threat to Icon's rights to distribute the picture, and that Icon was required to pay nearly $1.3 million in money owed to Cottonwood.

Icon didn't accept this judgment, filing a lawsuit against Cottonwood that attempted to invalidate the ruling on grounds that Freedman refused to hear pertinent evidence from one of its experts, refused to allow Icon the opportunity to conduct discovery, and allowed Cottonwood to introduce hearsay evidence. According to Icon, Freedman had expressed bias after Icon's law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan had declined the arbitrator's request to give Freedman's son a summer associate position.

Cottonwood then brought cross-claims attempting to enforce the arbitrator's decision.

But the intricacies of arbitration in the entertainment industry won't be fussed over. The parties have instead ended the dispute after 18 months of fighting. Terms of the settlement agreement haven't been publicly revealed.

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