Canal Plus Image, the film production and distribution affiliate of European media giant Canal Plus, has partnered with Paramount Pictures to co-produce and co-finance big budget comedy Numbers starring John Travolta.

Paramount will handle distribution in North America and Asia with Canal Plus Image handling theatrical, video, pay and free television in all other countries. In Latin America, Paramount handles theatrical and video distribution and Canal+ Image retains pay and free TV rights.

Directed by Nora Ephron (Sleepless In Seattle, You've Got Mail) and co-starring Lisa Kudrow and Tim Roth, the film is set as one of Paramount's key summer pictures with a release date in the heart of the season on July 14.

Numbers is the first major Hollywood deal to be announced since Stephane Sperry and Richard Garzilli were appointed co-presidents of Canal Plus US in Nov last year. Sperry is charged with building a product flow of major Hollywood movies to feed the burgeoning pan-European distribution organisation which Canal is currently constructing. Sperry told SI that his ultimate plan is to supply 8-12 major studio pictures a year to the network.

Among the companies so far assembled in Canal's fold are Bac Distribution, a new distributor formed with Bac Films but majority owned by Canal Plus Image, in France; Tobis Film, in which Canal Plus now has a controlling stake, in Germany; and a joint venture with Sogepaq in Spain.

Negotiations are currently underway with the UK's Pathe Distribution about a partnership. However, both Canal and Pathe are thought likely to want control of any distribution joint venture arising from the talks. Additionally, plans are afoot to be up and running in Benelux and Italy before the end of the year.

Canal Plus Image has a host of Hollywood deals in place with prolific producer/suppliers such as Bel Air Entertainment, in which it has a 50% stake, Working Title Films, Phoenix Pictures and Spyglass Entertainment from which it bought five films for French-speaking Europe including The Sixth Sense.

Through C+P, its joint acquisition venture with Pathe, it also has a deal with Mandalay Entertainment for rights in France and the UK to 12 films kicking off with Sleepy Hollow as well as European rights to animated movie Chicken Run, which was co-financed with DreamWorks SKG.

But while Canal has a different combination of rights in each of these deals, Sperry said that he is now approaching Europe as a whole and looking increasingly to buy international rights on one-off studio pictures such as Numbers or last year's U-571 which Canal co-financed with Universal Pictures. But while Summit Entertainment was enlisted to sell off territories on U-571, henceforth Canal's European distribution organisation will take on European rights. "We won't distribute in Latin America or in smaller countries," said Sperry. "Any studio would want our business for theatrical and video in these countries and so I think it will be straightforward to decide which is the best for each territory."

"As part of Canal Plus Image's overall strategy to increase its level of activity in the US, the split rights structure of the Numbers deal represents a template for future business activities that will complement those existing [producer] partnerships," added Garzilli.

Numbers reunites Travolta and Ephron for the first time since Michael in 1995. Written by Adam Resnick and produced by Ephron, Andrew Lazar, Sean Daniel and Jonathan Krane, the movie is the story of a cash-strapped TV weatherman in Pennsylvania who teams up with two friends to scam a local lottery.