Montreal-based TVA International (TVAI) has signed a three year agreement with France's StudioCanal to handle its product across Canada. The exclusive, all-rights deal dramatically expands the Quebec company's position in Canadian feature distribution.

The agreement covers more than 40 new features, including such English-language titles as Kathryn Bigelow's The Weight of Water starring Sean Penn, Elizabeth Hurley and Sarah Polley; John McNaughton's Speaking of Sex starring Lara Flynn-Boyle, Catherine O'Hara, Bill Murray and James Spader; Chasing Sleep featuring Jeff Daniels; Harrison's Flowers starring Andie McDowell, David Strathairn and Elias Koteas; Roman Polanski's The Pianist and Sara Sugarman's Very Annie Mary starring Rachel Griffiths and Jonathan Pryce.

French-language titles include Jean-Paul Salome's Belphegor - Phantom of the Louvre starring Sophie Marceau and Michel Serrault, and Christophe Gans' Brotherhood of the Wolf, starring Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci. Also included in the deal is Nagisa Oshima's Gohatto.

StudioCanal is co-financing and selling Axis, a big-budget computer-animated film which TVAI is co-producing with French producer Chaman Productions (ScreenDaily, Feb 14).

TVAI President and CEO Pierre Lampron told Screendaily that the thrust into theatrical distribution was precipitated by the wave of mergers that swept the company from a stand-alone, television-oriented business into a vertically integrated entertainment group.

The company was originally called Motion International until it was purchased jointly by Quebec broadcaster Groupe TVA and Quebec pension fund Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec. Groupe TVA's controlling shareholder, Groupe Videotron, a major cable company, was itself bought this September by publishing and printing giant Quebecor.

"When we were Motion it was more important to concentrate on TV and do theatrical on an opportunity basis," said Lampron. "But now that we're part of Groupe TVA and Quebecor, we'll be able to harness the synergies that come with that." He also pointed out that theatre-going among Canadians is on the increase; a greater theatrical presence puts TVAI at the front of the revenue. More to the point, the deal skips over the standard Canadian distribution path, where North American rights are sold to a US company which in turn sub-distributes in Canada through a local player. "There's going to be good money to make," says Lampron.

He stresses that the company is not new to theatrical distribution, citing the example of Franchise Pictures' Canadian production The Art Of War, which was distributed by TVAI in Canada and Warner Bros. in the US. Lampron says the film captured 15% of the Canadian market against Warner Bros seven per cent of the US in its opening weekend.