Philip Knatchbull, CEO of Curzon Artificial Eye, has a distinguished film background to live up to - his father, John Brabourne, produced the likes of Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo & Juliet and David Lean's A Passage To India.

But Knatchbull has a different sort of film mission. He aims to grow Curzon Artificial Eye while remaining true to its identity as one of the UK's leading distributors of foreign-language films. Pam and Andi Engel founded Artificial Eye in 1976, and the company was taken over in summer 2006 by Knatchbull Communications Group and Act Entertainment Group, owner of Curzon Cinemas.

The company has now appointed Louisa Dent (the former managing director of UGC Films UK) as its new managing-director. She succeeds Robert Beeson, who left the company in September.

'When Robert decided to leave, it was imperative for us to find someone with all the qualities Robert, Pam and Andi had, but also whose taste might be slightly broader, to enable us to look at a slightly broader range of films,' Knatchbull says of Dent's appointment.

Meanwhile, Alan McQueen (ex-Downtown Pictures) has been appointed to help increase the number of DVDs the company acquires.

In late October, Curzon Artificial Eye announced its acquisition of Helen Hunt's directorial debut, Then She Found Me, a clear sign the distributor was changing.

'It's no different from what ThinkFilm is doing in America,' Knatchbull suggests of the high-profile acquisition. 'Like us, it's trying to broaden what it buys.' In order to grow the company, he argues that Curzon Artificial Eye needs to acquire 'certain mid-sized locomotives' like the Hunt movie.

It does not, however, want to lose its core base of cinephiles. 'We will be developing a new theatrical label, Chelsea Cinema, to protect the legacy and core value of Artificial Eye,' Knatchbull says. 'If you look at the sales of our DVDs compared with the studios', we have much longer tails. We don't want to compromise that in any way.'

As if to underline its commitment to auteur-driven fare, the company has been on a mini-buying spree since Cannes, picking up films such as Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon (a pre-buy), 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, California Dreamin', The Old Mistress, The Banishment and Don't Touch The Axe.

Knatchbull will not reveal the size of the company's war chest, but says there is 'access to further financing' if the company's new strategy proves successful.

It is one of the few UK distributors with access to its own screens. Curzon Artificial Eye owns five sites (and controls nine screens) and is looking to build up its exhibition holdings. That is not all bad news for rival distributors, as only about 15%-20% of screen time is filled with the company's own releases.

After the Curzon and Knatchbull deal last year, a delegation of independent distributors knocked on Knatchbull's door, not even to complain about access to Curzon's screens. 'They came to us and said, 'What can we do differently in order to be more effective'' One thing we said was, 'Before you buy a film, ring up and ask us if we're likely to put this in the cinema.''

Knatchbull suggests that in certain cases, Curzon Artificial Eye may even help other distributors with their purchases.

The company is also looking for new ways to reach the audience. One intriguing endeavour is a hook-up with UK broadcaster Sky to release Fatih Akin's The Edge Of Heaven on pay-per-view simultaneously with the cinema rollout.

And in a small way, the company is dipping its toes into production. Curzon Artificial Eye is co-producing and co-financing Bangladesh-set The Last Thakur as the first Eye School Project with the National Film and Television School. The scheme will greenlight micro-budget features with guaranteed theatrical release.