Former Fox Searchlightdistribution chief Stephen Gilula and marketing chief Nancy Utley have beenpromoted to joint chief operating officers as the studio prepares for itsbiggest year.

The company veterans are regarded alongside president Peter Rice as key playersas Searchlight bids to erase the memory of a lacklustre 2005 and emulate thecritical and commercial success of the previous year, which spawned such hitsas Napoleon Dynamite, Sideways, and Garden State.

The 2006 slate includes Sunshinefrom the 28 Days Laterwriter-director team of Danny Boyle and Alex Garland; Deepa Mehta's Torontoopener Water; Timur Bekmambetov'sRussian fantasy hit Night Watch;Alex Aja's remake of The Hills Have Eyes; the Zoe Heller adaptation Notes On A Scandal starring Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett; JasonReitman's controversial Toronto pick-up Thank You For Smoking; and Richard Linklater's narrative version of FastFood Nation.

Gilula and marketing chief Nancy Utley will jointly manage all aspects of thecompany alongside Rice including production, acquisitions, marketing anddistribution.

"Nancy and Steve's campaigns have redefined the specialised film business overthe past five years," Rice said. "This promotion allows them to apply theirinnovation and experience throughout the organisation as we gear up to releaseour most ambitious slate ever."

"Our joint history on five years of films gives us a great foundation uponwhich to continue to build the company, and we have developed a shorthand withone another that makes for very effective communication," Utley added.

"Searchlight's strength is due not only to the collaboration amongst Peter,Nancy and me, but to the hard work and dedication of the entire Searchlightteam: an extraordinary group of individuals with an unlimited passion andcommitment for independent film," Gilula said.

Utley and Gilula were appointed to their presidential posts in 1999 and 2000respectively, and have overseen the marketing and distribution of Sideways, 28 Days Later, Napoleon Dynamite, and BendIt Like Beckham, among others.

Utley previously served in various executive roles at Twentieth Century Fox,while Gilula served as president and chief executive officer of LandmarkTheatres, which he co-founded in 1974.

Although Searchlight released fewer pictures last year than in 2004 - sixcompared to 10 - the slate did not live up to expectations with BeeSeason, Millions and Melinda And Melinda all failing to break out. The studio's biggest 2005 hitwas the comedy Roll Bounce, whichgrossed $17.3m.