Former owners of Aspens Isis now hold Bergman film catalog | AspenTimes.com

Former owners of Aspens Isis now hold Bergman film catalog

Janet Urquhart and Wyatt Haupt Jr.The Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Aspen Times fileA convoluted battle between the former owners of Aspen's Isis Theater and a Swedish company has resulted in the transfer of noted filmmaker Ingmar Bergman's catalog to the Aspen-based Isis Litigation LLC.
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ASPEN The entire library of legendary Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, plus dozens of other films, have been awarded to the former owners of Aspens Isis Theatre, a representative said Wednesday.The development is the latest twist in a convoluted legal battle between an Aspen group and Svensk Filmindustri, the Swedish company that at one time backed the lease for the local movie house.Aspen-based Isis Litigation LLC is considering how to obtain the highest value for the assets of Svensk, said Jack Smith of the Denver office of Holland & Hart LLP, whos been attached to the case for more than eight years. The sale of the film catalog is possible, he said.Isis obtained the copyright transfer of Svensks film assets in December, and launched SwedishClassicFilms.com, reopening Bergmans films to U.S. distribution.Weve got the rights, Smith said.Svensk had withheld Bergmans work from the United States for nearly a decade because the Isis group was poised to garnish Svensks royalties to collect on a debt that now stands at close to $10 million.As it was, Isis collected some $500,000 by garnishing Svensks contracts with several U.S. film companies, including Sony, Janus Films and MGM, Smith said. We are doing everything we can to collect the debt, he said.Svensks catalog included more than 1,200 films some of them nearly 100 years old including the works of Bergman. The titles affected by the transfer include Cries and Whispers, Fanny and Alexander, Hour of the Wolf, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries. Also included are such classics as Lasse Hallstroms My Life as a Dog and Bo Widerbers Elvira Madigan.The Isis battle with Svensk dates back to 2000, three years after a group of Aspen investors leased the Hopkins Avenue theater to Resort Theaters of America (RTA), which was to run the theater operation at the Isis.The investors, including Sam Houston, who represented the group publicly, had redeveloped the Isis from a funky, one-screen movie house into a state-of-the-art, five-screen cinema. Svensk, part-owner of RTA, guaranteed the lease.But RTA filed for bankruptcy and pulled out of the Isis in 2000. The movie house went dark. The theaters owners eventually found a new operator for the Isis and, in 2006, reached a deal to sell the theater property to Isis Group LLC and Aspen Film using a financing arrangement that involved the city of Aspen. The deal allowed what was, by then, Aspens only movie theatre to remain in existence, though it was reduced to a four-screen cinema.Meanwhile the Isis owners sued Svensk, which had refused to make good on its guarantee of the RTA lease. In 2003, the Isis ownership was awarded a judgment for more than $5.9 million, plus $850,000 in costs and fees.The balance, with interest, is now more than $9.8 million. Svensk appealed the judgment and lost, but has steadfastly refused to pay the Isis group.Isis continues to run GarnishSvensk.com, where a debt ticker shows, in real time, exactly how much Svensk owes Isis. A reward of up to $100,000 still stands for anyone who has information that can lead to is Isis recovering lost royalties from Svensk.In 2008, a Colorado judge found Svensk in contempt of court, fined the company $2,500 per day for disobeying a court order and ultimately ruled all of Svensks film rights be transferred to the Isis group.The Isis group obtained full copyright to the film assets in December.We hope they wake up and smell the coffee, Smith said. We intend to get paid and we are not going to give up.jurquhart@aspentimes.com


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