January 17, 2009 / 1:45 AM / 10 years ago

U.S. company has plans for Ingmar Bergman catalog

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rights to the complete works of Swedish film legend Ingmar Bergman, at least in the United States, now rest with the former owners of a Colorado movie theater after an eight-year legal battle with a Scandinavian media group.

Legendary Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman attends a news conference for his film "Troloesa" in Stockholm in this May 9, 1998 file photo. REUTERS/ Gunnar Seijbold/ Scanpix

To satisfy an unpaid multimillion-dollar court judgment against Svensk Filmindustri, a Colorado judge last year ordered rights to its entire movie catalog transferred to operators of the landmark Isis Theater in the ski resort of Aspen, Colorado.

The process of assigning and recording rights to Bergman’s films and dozens of others with the U.S. Copyright Office was completed in late December, Isis representatives said on Friday.

Transferred so far are roughly 450 movie and television titles, including Bergman’s complete film collection, among them “Cries and Whispers,” “Fanny and Alexander,” “Hour of the Wolf,” “The Seventh Seal” and “Wild Strawberries.”

Other art-house classics included are Lasse Hallstrom’s “My Life as a Dog” and Bo Widerberg’s “Elvira Madigan.”

The move is expected to pave the way for renewed public and commercial access to Bergman’s films, whose distribution was hampered for several years by the litigation over their ownership. Bergman died on July 30, 2007, at age 89.

Isis is now seeking distribution and licensing deals for his films, bringing them to a wider audience, said Denver-based lawyer Jack Smith.

“We didn’t choose to go into the Swedish film business. All we chose was to collect the money that we’re owed on this judgment,” Smith said.

The judgment, which has grown with interest to nearly $10 million, stemmed from a lawsuit over a 1997 agreement between Isis and Svensk to transform the historic theater in Aspen into a multiplex cinema.

Svensk guaranteed the lease on the project but refused to pay when its partner, Resort Theaters of America, went bankrupt in 2000 and the venture failed.

Svensk in recent years declined to contest Isis’ claims in U.S. courts, and Smith said the Swedish film company may continue to assert competing rights to the films in other countries.

“The actual enforcement of this (judgment) outside the United States is something that remains to be seen,” he said.

Isis has, however, managed to collect about $500,000 by garnishing Svensk royalties paid by U.S. movie distributors, Smith said.

No officials from Svensk were immediately available for comment. Nor were representatives of its parent company, the family-owned media conglomerate the Bonnier Group.

But Hollywood trade magazine Daily Variety quoted Bonnier executive Torsten Larsson last July as saying, “A court decision in Colorado means nothing in Sweden. ... We offered a settlement (to Isis) but they were not interested.”

While Isis lacks physical prints of the movies at issue, most exist in digital format, “so that makes obtaining a master film version less significant,” Smith said.

Isis recently launched a new movie retail website, SwedishClassicFilms.com, where individuals can order DVD copies of Bergman’s works.

Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Chris Wilson

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