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Black Bear moves into UK distribution, unveils international leadership team | News

Black Bear International team

Black Bear is moving into direct UK distribution and has unveiled the Black Bear International senior leadership team months after John Friedberg left STX to set up the company with Teddy Schwarzman.

Llewellyn Radley, Laura Austin Little, Jill Silfen and Mike Shanks all join Friedberg at the new venture and worked together at STX International. Last week Screen was first to report that STX was understood to be winding down its UK office in London, which houses the international sales and the distribution teams.

Radley joins as EVP, international and UK MD and will lead the launch of Black Bear’s direct distribution business in the UK, reporting to Friedberg. The company aims to release 12-15 films a year comprising Black Bear productions and international and UK acquisitions.

Black Bear UK has already secured UK rights to Edward Berger’s Vatican thriller Conclave starring Ralph Fiennes, Stanley Tucci and John Lithgow, and noir thriller Knox Goes Away starring and to be directed by Michael Keaton. It is the second distribution venture for Black Bear, which owns Elevation Pictures in Canada.

Austin Little joins as EVP, international sales and will oversee the sales and licensing of Black Bear International’s slate of titles. Prior to joining STX she held senior sales roles at Lakeshore Entertainment, Annapurna and Exclusive Media. Black Bear International will officially launch in Toronto next month when it will bring new sales titles and scour the market for UK acquisitions.

The company is close to finalising a deal to handle international on STX’s current slate, which includes Michael Mann’s Ferrari with Adam Driver and Penelope Cruz, upcoming Toronto world premiere Devotion, supernatural horror Bed Rest, Neil Burger’s psychological thriller The Marsh King’s Daughter, and Guy Ritchie’s Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre and The Interpreter.

Mike Shanks, Jill Silfen of Black Bear International

Silfen joins as general counsel and prior to STX was EVP of business affairs at Miramax and ran her own private practice working for major studios and streamers. Shanks joins as COO of the international group and will oversee all aspects of finance and operations for the international and UK businesses. Prior to STX, he held senior finance roles at eOne and Sky, among others.

“I am absolutely thrilled to welcome Llewellyn, Laura, Jill and Mike to the Black Bear family,” said Friedberg. “Over recent years, they have shown themselves to be an exceptionally diligent and capable group of executives. I look forward to building on our close working relationship as we establish Black Bear International as a force in the marketplace, and launch a dynamic new UK distribution business.’

Black Bear Pictures was founded in 2011 by Schwarzman and the film library includes The Imitation Game, I Care A Lot, Mudbound, and All Is Lost. The company and New Regency recently announced the creation of unscripted content joint venture Double Agent run by Dana O’Keefe.

It has also emerged that the company is in talks with Lionsgate to handle distribution on its upcoming theatrical slate after it was announced that Adam Fogelson is departing STX as chairman of the motion picture group and starting at Lionsgate on September 1 as vice-chair of the studio’s motion picture group.

Lionsgate had been linked to a possible acquisition of STX until the latter was bought by Najafi Companies earlier this year following a challenging period for STX dating back to its acquisition by Eros in 2020 and the ensuing pandemic.

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