Eight of Europe's best known independent distributors have pacted together to form an ambitious pan-continental buying and investment alliance.

In a deal finalised on Monday night (Oct 29), their first acquisition is not, however, a film but a sales company - Celluloid Dreams. The Hengameh Panahi-headed Celluloid will act as the alliance's acquisitions hub while also continuing to act as a conventional sales agent.

The co-operative involves Cinelibre/Cineart from Belgium, Fu Works of The Netherlands, Frenetic Films of Switzerland and Haut Et Court from France. Unlike previous distribution pacts the new group combines more than one distributor in some territories; EyeScreen/Lucky Red and BIM Distribuzione from Italy and both Golem and Alta Films from Spain.

By acting as a group, the companies plan to be better able to finance films and retain equity, rather than simply licence rights. "This is not a distribution coalition, but a buying company. We want to own rights and build a catalogue," said Fu Works principal San Fu Maltha.

"Based on a community of taste, this alliance brings production and the marketplace closer together," said Celluloid boss, Panahi.

The architects of the deal see the alliance increasing their negotiating power while simultaneously reducing their costs. "This alliance is also a tool enabling us to better follow the directors we believe in. Until now we have seen projects and scripts at an early stage and then had to see them go to different sales companies and watch the prices mount."

Celluloid will often acquire world rights to pictures and sell off non-European territories. But the companies are at pains to point out that the alliance is not at the expense of other relationships. The distributors will buy from other sales outfits and Celluloid will, potentially, sell to other buyers in the partner territories.

Significantly, many of the partners in the alliance - notably Haut Et Court, Fu Works and Celluloid - are producers as well as distributors.

The partners hope to increase their influence still further by arrangements with key North American buyers of low-to-mid budget pictures. Fine Line, Sony Pictures Classics, USA Films and IFC Films have been targeted.

The alliance seeks to buy an initial five or six European films per year in a range of budgets. Unanimity among the distributors will be necessary for the largest investments, but would not be required for pick-ups of the smallest titles.