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Producer Lantos sues Goldman over sale of film rights

Movie producer Robert Lantos at the 'Ides of March' party at TIFF in Toronto, Sept. 9, 2011. Mr. Lantos and his production company Serendipity are suing Goldman Sachs over distribution rights to six of Mr. Lantos' films.

J.P. Moczulski for The Globe and Mail/j.p. moczulski The Globe and Mail

Robert Lantos, the canny, creative, and famously combative movie producer who once stood atop the Canadian film and television business as the chairman and CEO of Alliance Communications, has filed suit in a bitter custody dispute over six of his films which he says were sold to an international distributor without his permission.

In a statement of claim filed with Ontario's Superior Court of Justice last month, Mr. Lantos alleges the new owners of Alliance Films, namely Goldman Sachs Investment Partners, the private equity arm of the U.S. investment bank, acted improperly when it sold off the international distribution rights to the films to Alliance Atlantis International in 2007. The following year, Alliance Atlantis International re-sold the rights as part of a 7,500-title deal to Echo Bridge Entertainment, a little-known home entertainment distributor based in Needham, Mass.

The films include critically acclaimed features such as Sunshine and Atom Egoyan's Ararat, which won Genie Awards for best picture, and David Cronenberg's eXistenZ. The other three are Picture Claire, Denys Arcand's Stardom and the Paul Gross comedy Men With Brooms.

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The 63-year-old is seeking unspecified damages and residual fees from these films in a suit that also names Echo Bridge and Alliance Atlantis International Distribution Ltd. as defendants.

Ironically, Mr. Lantos's beef is not with Alliance Films, whose chair is his long-time business partner and flamboyant friend, Victor Loewy. He had to list Alliance Films in the suit because his contract, technically, is with them.

"It pains me to have to sue the company I founded and spent 25 years building," said Mr. Lantos, who produced the Oscar-nominated Being Julia (starring Annette Bening) and Barney's Version. "But its current owner Goldman Sachs has disposed of the international rights to my films, without having the right to do so, and without paying me.

"We have repeatedly attempted to get information about the terms of the sale, and a report on the international revenues of these films, but to no avail. Unfortunately, I have no choice but to turn to the courts to enforce my contractual and moral rights."

Mr. Lantos may be as famous for his outsized personality and appetite for battle as his business success. A champion of Canadian culture, Mr. Lantos famously ripped into Air Canada while accepting an award it had sponsored during the 1991 Genie gala for not putting domestic films on its flights.

Often, his qualities found a lucky fusion: In 1978, as a 29-year-old producer, Mr. Lantos scored worldwide press coverage when the Ontario Censor Board said his second film, the sexually explicit In Praise of Older Women, would not be able to open that year's Toronto film festival (then known as the Festival of Festivals) unless producers snipped out two racy minutes. Thirty seconds were eventually cut from the film, and the festival had to add an additional screen for an overflow crowd.

In the lawsuit, Mr. Lantos' production company Serendipity alleges that Goldman Sachs – which purchased Alliance in 2007 for $2.3-billion – is in breach of a production and distribution agreement that required it to provide Serendipity, "with timely and accurate reports regarding the international revenues and profits earned by the films."

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"GS Capital induced, facilitated and caused these assignments of rights for its own benefit and profit, and was therefore unjustly enriched at Serendipity's expense," the lawsuit alleges. "GS Capital knew, or ought to have known, that the assignments and assets sales could only occur after Serendipity had been provided notice of the proposed assignments and asset sales, and had consented to such assignments and asset sales."

This is not the first time Mr. Lantos has attacked the sale of the titles to Echo Bridge. In the spring of 2008, days after the sale's completion, he complained that he had been "a motivated buyer," but had been shut out of the bidding because Goldman Sachs saw other Canadian companies as potential rivals to its Alliance Films division.

Neither Echo Bridge nor Goldman Sachs responded to requests for comment.

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About the Author
Senior Media Writer

Simon Houpt is the Globe and Mail's senior media writer, charged with covering the industry's transformation. He began his career with The Globe in 1999 as the paper's New York arts correspondent, covering the cultural life of that city through Canadian eyes. More

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