EXCLUSIVE: One of the most obvious but routinely encountered hazards for a growing distributor is over-reach: buying or marketing beyond your means. So far, that’s a pitfall UK outfit Altitude Films has avoided with aplomb.

Set up by former Optimum Releasing founder Will Clarke in 2012, the carefully managed integrated firm, comprising distribution, sales and production, is coming off its biggest year to date, despite the challenging UK landscape. Four movies crossed $1M for the distribution arm in 2017: Moonlight (which took a company record $6M), Loving Vincent ($1.4M), The Florida Project ($1.3M) and Lady Macbeth (1.1M). Six of the company’s top ten movies have been released in the last 12 months.

Much of the growing distribution slate is made up of rising UK talent (Michael Pearce’s Toronto drama Beast is released in around 70 screens this weekend), festival favorites (Cannes 2017 hit Loveless took $440,000 earlier this year) and commercially-minded documentaries (four of Altitude’s top ten movies are docs).

The company’s second biggest film at the UK box office remains Oscar-winning doc Amy, about singer Amy Winehouse, which in 2015 took more than $5M in the UK and $20M worldwide. Next in that vein are Whitney Houston doc Whitney by Oscar-winner Kevin Macdonald (One Day In September) and Amy and Senna director Asif Kapadia’s soccer bio-doc Maradona.

The former, which will debut in Cannes next month, has Amy potential, says Head Of Distribution Hamish Moseley. It’s also a tearjerker, he confirms. “It’s a tragic story. The movie shows how amazing she was but it doesn’t shy away from anything. We have lots of archive footage that hasn’t been seen before. Amy was one of the biggest documentaries ever, globally. We want it to be in that bracket and want to do multiple millions of pounds at the box office. It will be a mainstream release in a few hundred cinemas straight away with a full window.” Altitude and U.S. distributor Roadside, which is also expected to go big on the movie, will both release on July 6.

While the widely praised Amy irked Winehouse’s father Mitch, familial discord isn’t expected on Whitney, says the former Momentum Pictures and Cineworld exec. “I think the film will be controversial because she was a controversial figure but it has been made with the blessing and co-ordination of the estate.”

Meanwhile, the equally anticipated Maradona had been talked about as a Cannes potential but now won’t be on the Riviera. Given the iconic soccer player’s strong Italian ties Venice could be an alternative. Moseley says release will likely fall between September of this year and January of next.

Bolstering the doc lineup is new acquisition Spitfire, about the British air force’s (RAF) iconic fighter plane and the last-surviving combat veterans from WWII who flew them. The feature, whose release this year will coincide with the RAFs’ centenary, is directed by Nureyev and McCullin editor David Fairhead and producers include Steve Milne (Journey’s End). Altitude is lining up a summer event release.

Another addition to the slate is first-time UK filmmaker Ed Lilly’s battle rap drama VS., which stars rising British actor Connor Swindells (Keepers) and battle rapper Adam Rooney aka Shotty Horroh. The BBC Films-backed co-release with Lorton Entertainment will also go over the summer but receive a wider roll-out. Notable upcoming 2018 movies for Altitude also include Cannes 2017 drama The Rider, Japanese animation Mary And The Witch’s Flower and Thai boxing movie A Prayer Before Dawn.

Altitude

Simultaneously, the company is gearing up for the next phase of its lucrative day-and-date tie-up with UK broadcaster Sky, one of the first of its kind. Under the deal, a handful of commercially-minded Sky acquisitions are theatrically released by Altitude on the same day they debut on the broadcaster’s pay-TV platform. Already released under the pact in recent months were thriller Anon, action pic Hurricane Heist and family movie Monster Family. The latter reached a record 137 screens (despite not having buy-in from some leading chains), taking $490,000.

There will be at least four movies in the next batch, spread across Q4 2018 and Q1 2019, with the first being Scott Mann’s action movie Final Score, starring Dave Bautista and Pierce Brosnan. “It’s an interesting and ambitious initiative,” explains Moseley, who confirms that the combined distribution and marketing campaigns behind the movies run to millions of pounds. “We want to see if we can prove that audiences will still come to cinemas when the same movies are available at home. We don’t think we’re breaking the system, it’s about consumer choice.”

The deal is a forerunner of sorts to a pact revealed yesterday between UK distributor Kaleidoscope and European VoD service Rakuten TV, the subsidiary of Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, with their first day-and-date release the Milo Gibson WWII movie Hurricane.

As Altitude’s slate grows, so do company ranks. Respected team member Lia Devlin, who has been with the company from its inception, has been promoted to Head Of Theatrical while former Momentum exec Mark Jones joined permanently late last year as Head Of Publicity. Elsewhere in the company, Martha Hood has joined to work alongside Bradley Quirk in development and production. The firm has at least 20 film and TV projects in development including comedy feature Horrible Histories: The Movie.

Mike Runagall continues to oversee the sales operation, whose slate includes Whitney, Maradona and the company’s upcoming Billie Holiday doc as well as genre fare including Ghost Stories and lucrative shark movie 47 Meters Down. It is an exec producer on the latter’s sequel 48 Meters Down. Newly announced today is upcoming Film4-backed feature drama Calm With Horses, starring rising UK actors Cosmo Jarvis (Lady Macbeth), Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk) and Niamh Algar (Without Name). Michael Fassbender’s DMC is producer on the Ireland-set movie about a former boxer who puts his family in danger when he is asked to kill for the first time. Altitude and Element Pictures will handle distribution in UK and Ireland.