James Hewison, former long-term executive director of the Melbourne International Film Festival, is understood to be the new head of the theatrical division of the prominent independent distributor Madman Entertainment.

Hewison announced in late January that he was stepping down from his role as chief executive of the Australian Film Institute after only 18 months in the job and 10 months before its 50th anniversary awards. At the time he would only say that he was pursuing other opportunities in the film industry.

Tonight he would not comment on the rumours about his new post at Madman.

Madman is known for how well it works bold independent, foreign and niche fiction films and documentaries on a range of platforms. It appears to be less risk-averse than many of its competitors.

It turns over A$50 million in sales annually and is Australia's largest independent DVD distributor. It was in the home entertainment space long before it entered the theatrical business and had a big hit with Kenny, which was second only to Happy Feet as Australia's biggest local film in 2006. Recent releases have included This Is England, In the Shadow of the Moon and The Counterfeiters.

Madman is owned by the public company Funtastic Limited, but is managed by Tim Anderson and Paul Wiegard, who founded the company about a decade ago. Wiegard was on the MIFF board during Hewison's time and still is.

Up to now the theatrical division has been managed by Anna McLeish. It is understood that she chose to move on.