Columbia TriStar Films France and French studio Gaumont haveformed Gaumont Columbia TriStar Films in a deal that will see the new entitydistribute in France all films produced and acquired for France by SonyPictures Entertainment, Columbia TriStar and Gaumont.

Headed up by Columbia Tri Star International's current presidentEric Brune, the joint venture will begin operating on Jul 1 and its first majorrelease will be Spider-Man 2, which opens worldwide the following day.

The new enterprise follows a successful home video partnershipover the past 17 years as well as US and select foreign theatrical distributionby Columbia of Gaumont productions including the Luc Besson titles Leon (aka The Professional in the US), The Fifth Element and Joan Of Arc.

The creation of Gaumont Columbia TriStar Films heralds the end ofGaumont Buena Vista International (GBVI), Gaumont's joint venture distributiondeal with Disney that began in 1993 and will end this summer. GBVI was thenumber one distributor in France last year

"This new subsidiary ofColumbia and Gaumont is yet another acknowledgement of the tremendous growth inthe worldwide motion picture business," Jeff Blake, vice chairman of SonyPictures Entertainment and president of worldwide marketing and distribution atColumbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, said in a statement.

"With this move, we continue our long and fruitful collaborationwith Gaumont. We look forward to combining our strengths to create a majordistribution apparatus in France that it second to none."

"Columbia Pictures is one of the foremost producers anddistributors of quality motion pictures in the world today," NicolasSeydoux, the chief executive officer of Gaumont who made the joint announcementwith Blake, added.

"The combination of its broad international experience and ourknowledge of the French film industry looks to be a formidable union."

The release of Spider-Man 2 will be followed later in the year with Revolution Studios'psychological thriller The Forgotten starring Julianne Moore, Columbia's romantic comedy LastFirst Kiss starring WillSmith, John Grisham's Skipping Christmas, starring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis, Mike Nichols'adaptation of Patrick Marber's award-winning play Closer starring Julia Roberts and Jude Law andJames L Brooks' new comedy-drama Spanglish starring Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni and Paz Vega.

The dealincludes distribution of films such as L'Enquete Corse directed by Alain Berberian and starringJean Reno and Christian Clavier, Olivier Marshall's 36 starring Daniel Auteuil, Gerard Depardieuand Valeria Golino, and L'Empire Des Loups directed by Chris Naon and starring Jean Reno and OlivierMartinez.