One of the ugliest shootouts in the history of the Canadian movie business happened in July of 2006, when Alliance Films ringmaster Victor Loewy was dumped by Alliance Atlantis, the distribution arm’s parent company.
Loewy got a sweet kiss-and-make-up deal which allowed him to continue to oversee the distribution arm of Alliance Atlantis. And this week, I had a sense of deja vu when I read two announcements about Loewy’s latest ejection from the company he co-founded 40 years ago.
“Further to the acquisition of Alliance Films by eOne, the Alliance Films brand and legacy will come to an end,” Loewy said in an email to friends and colleagues. “It is obviously quite a sad moment for me after founded and been associated with the company for the past 40 years. Therefore I have decided not to be part of the new enterprise. I have stepped down as Chairman and CEO of Alliance (Films) with immediate effect to open a a new chapter in my professional and personal life. You will see me around.”
“I have no hobbies,” he told me.
But until he sorts out the legal details of his parting with Alliance, he can’t say when, how or where. Much will depend on the terms of any non-compete arrangement to be negotiated as part of his exit deal.
“We were just a flea on the wall,” Loewy’s old friend and partner Robert Lantos says, recalling how he and Loewy started the company back when they were still hanging out at McGill University — two hungry young film-struck guys from Eastern Europe on the make. They started by buying the rights to something called The New York erotic Film Festival. Soon they moved to Toronto, and their company, RSL, grew into an industry player, with Lantos concentrating on producing and Loewy acquiring films to distribute.
For years, the movie business in Canada had been dominated by major Hollywood studios. But with the emergence of strong independent companies like New Line and Miramax, Loewy seized the opportunity to acquire lucrative non-studio U.S. movies.
By 1998, Lantos, who was tired of being CEO of a huge company, sold Alliance to its arch-rival, Atlantis. But Loewy wanted to continue running the distribution arm, and its new owners had little experience in that area of the business. So the deal was arranged that in buying Alliance, Atlantis inherited Loewy.
It was an uneasy marriage. The dispute in 2006 occurred when Loewy and his second-in-comand, Patrice Theroux, were accused of trying to find buyers for the distribution operation, without permission of the parent company.
Michael MacMillan, then running Alliance Atlantis, needed to bring Loewy back because without him, there was no expert to run the lucrative distribution side, and key suppliers like New Line were likely to defect. Some of the most important U.S. partners had clauses which stipulated they could cancel their contracts if Loewy left the company.
The surprise was the speed with which Loewy departed once the deal closed, following approval by the Canadian Competition Bureau. Many observers expected a make-nice transition in which Loewy would play a part.
But eOne already has a strong distribution operation, so it does not need Loewy as the magnet to attract top films. The guy in charge of is Patrice Theroux, who learned much of what he knows when he worked at Alliance. After all, he had the ideal mentor —Victor Loewy.