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Wednesday, 5 June, 2002, 17:20 GMT 18:20 UK
FilmFour in talks for partner
Cate Blanchett in Charlotte Gray
Cate Blanchett starred in FilmFour's Charlotte Gray
Channel 4 has been talking to a number of international companies in its search for a partner to help shoulder its loss-making feature film production arm, FilmFour.

FilmFour, which made films such as Trainspotting and East Is East, turned in a £5m loss last year after films such as Lucky Break and Very Annie Mary failed to live up to expectations.

That contributed to Channel 4's £20m loss - the first time the broadcaster has not posted a profit for more than a decade - and new chief executive Mark Thompson is looking to turn its fortunes around.

If it cannot find a partner, it may have to "refocus" activities and go back to making films mainly for TV.

'Ongoing discussions'

One of FilmFour's biggest problems has been competing for cinema space with multinational film companies, whose films account for more than two thirds of UK box office takings.

FilmFour blames the poor box office results on its lack of clout in the distribution market rather than the quality of its films.

Once Upon a Time in the Midlands
Once Upon a Time in the Midlands was a hit at Cannes
It hopes an international partner can help it match the major players, and has had talks with a number of potential allies.

"Channel 4 has made no secret of the fact that it is looking at a number of options for its stand-alone film business FilmFour Ltd," a statement said.

"These options include bringing in a partner to the business and we are in ongoing discussions with interested parties.

"We are also looking at further strengthening links between Channel 4 and FilmFour Ltd, including refocusing FilmFour Ltd to produce films directly for the main channel."

In 2001, FilmFour put out 14 films, but its releases accounted for just 0.7% of the UK box office market.

Lost money

It has not had a major box office hit since 1999's East is East, an affectionate comedy about an Asian family in 1970s Salford.

More recently, it lost money on Lucky Break, a prison comedy starring James Nesbitt and Olivia Williams.

But Charlotte Gray, a big screen adaptation of Sebastian Faulks' World War II drama, starring Cate Blanchett, took £1.2m at UK box offices and did not lose money thanks to international deals.

It is now hoping that forthcoming productions will give it the box office boost it needs.

Papal production

Once Upon A Time In The Midlands, starring Robert Carlyle and Ricky Tomlinson, was acclaimed when it was shown in Cannes, while The Actors will star Michael Caine and Miranda Richardson.

The "mini-studio" recently announced that Anthony Hopkins is to play Pope Pius IX in Edgardo Mortara, while it will also make Stephen Fry's directorial debut, Bright Young Things.

FilmFour Ltd is a part of 4 Ventures, Channel 4's commercial department, which also includes the broadcaster's pay-TV channels and internet interests.

It is a separate operation to the FilmFour subscription TV channel, which broadcasts movies on cable and satellite TV.

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