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by Peter Knegt
March 10, 2009 6:10 AM
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Benten Films and Watchmaker Films Announce International Partnership

US-based distributor Benten Films, the first label run by film critics, and UK-based Watchmaker Films have entered into "a strategic and financial partnership." Effective immediately, Benten President and CEO Andrew Grant will head up Production and Acquisitions for Watchmaker. Benten VP and Art Director Aaron Hillis "will assume a greater role in the day-to-day operations of Benten while simultaneously looking to expand the organization."

"The distribution world is in the midst of a crisis, both financial and technological," said Grant in a statement. "Sales are down across the board for smaller companies, long-established distributors are closing up shop, and everybody is waiting to see which of the next-gen distribution mechanisms will dominate. Producers and sales agents haven't understood how the landscape has changed, and they're still looking for advances that made sense five years ago, but are unreasonable today."

Watchmaker, the brainchild of Mark Rance, "shares Benten's commitment to curation and quality, and extends it beyond distribution into restoration, preservation and remastering services." Watchmaker's in-house capabilities include HD-4K and higher scans, full picture and audio restoration, color timing, audio/video remastering, DVD and Blu-ray authoring, and the ability to encode for digital cinema and online delivery systems. As a result, both companies can now seek out older titles that previously didn't have satisfactory digital elements, bringing them to viewers via the many consumer-ready digital formats.

"We're excited about partnering with Mark, who has worked for Criterion and every major studio, and has produced such stellar DVDs as the special editions of Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Se7en," said Andrew Grant in a statement.

Both companies will continue to "support new and underrepresented filmmakers from around the world." Benten is currently working on their first 2009 release, Azazel Jacobs' "The GoodTimesKid," which will be fully remastered from a 2K scan of the original negative, and preserved in an archival 4K scan. "It's important to expand on the standard canon of great films and support up-and-coming filmmakers with state-of-the-art presentations in every format, from cinemas to DVD and beyond," said Rance in a statement.

On the distribution side, Watchmaker and Benten plan to expand their distribution network into the European and Asian markets. The two companies have been busy acquiring titles, and are currently planning releases by such filmmakers as Tobe Hooper, John Gianvito, Danny Lyon, Fred Kelemen, and Peter Wollen/Laura Mulvey.

"We're still going to pursue American and foreign indies, but we're excited to be balancing our library with works from such established filmmakers," said Hillis in a statement. On the restoration side, Watchmaker is currently preserving 50 years of student work for the London Film School, while Benten is driving a project to restore the works of several long-neglected filmmakers.

The companies will maintain both the Watchmaker and Benten imprimaturs, and are currently in talks to add additional sub-labels, specializing in political and independent Asian cinema. Negotiations for online distribution of their titles are also in the works.

Watchmaker/Benten titles are distributed in the US by E1 Entertainment (formerly Koch Home Entertainment) and in the United Kingdom and Eire by PIAS UK.

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