Lions Gate filling Miramax's shoes

Monday, September 10, 2001

LOS ANGELES -- Lions Gate Films doesn't go looking for movies that will peeve and perturb. But the independent distributor has had its share of hot-potato films in its short history.

Among them, the satirical serial-killer flick "American Psycho," the angels-run-amok comedy "Dogma," and now "O," a grim examination of teen violence that is based on Shakespeare's "Othello."

Lions Gate stepped in to release "Dogma" and "O" after original distributor Miramax bowed out.

Disney-owned Miramax came under fire from Roman Catholics who viewed "Dogma" as an assault on their church. And with its uncompromising tone, which preserves the Shakespearean violence of "Othello," "O" became too touchy for Miramax in light of the Columbine school massacre and other school tragedies. The movie finished shooting in spring 1999, just before Columbine.

As one of Hollywood's biggest independent distributors, with no major corporate owner, Lions Gate felt comfortable buying both movies. "Dogma" became its top-grossing movie, with $30.4 million domestically, while the distributor is giving "O" a fairly wide release in 1,500 theaters.

"I do think that it's the relative corporate structure of Lions Gate vs. some of our studio competitors that allows us to produce or acquire certain films that others might stay away from," said Tom Ortenberg, head of Lions Gate Films, a division of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.

Dark character studies

Other Lions Gate releases in its four-year history include the dark character studies "Affliction," "Gods and Monsters" and "Shadow of the Vampire," and the Mexican "Amores Perros," which features horrific depictions of dog fights.

"Since Lions Gate has no one to answer to other than themselves, they must feel unfettered in a way that perhaps other distribution companies don't," said "O" director Tim Blake Nelson. "That allows them to grab hold of a movie like 'Amores Perros' or 'Affliction' or 'O,' without having to worry they're going to be removed from their jobs."

Lions Gate has just acquired another sobering film directed by Nelson, "The Grey Zone," about Jews who aided the Nazis in the Holocaust. Other provocative releases include "Bully," the story of a teen who brutalizes classmates; "Lost and Delirious," about a lesbian love affair at a boarding school.

Nelson and "Dogma" director Kevin Smith hold no bitterness against Miramax, saying they were glad the company was willing and able to sell off the films to a good distributor.

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