Film theaters are being privatized on a large scale for the first time in Poland. After several Warsaw theaters went private, the 20-theater Silesia Film chain, in southern Poland, has followed suit.

A state company until two months ago, Silesia Film was bought out by its employees and will make its official debut as the Silesia Film Co. Ltd. on Nov. 1. What makes it important is that the outfit will program an additional 120 theaters. The new exhib chain controls 20% of the national market, and has a virtual monopoly on exhibition in Silesia, a heavily industrialized area with a population close to 9 million.

“Large private chains that deal directly with producers are the future of Polish exhibition,” insists Stan Izydorczyk, a former Film Polski exec who is Silesia Film’s chairman of the board and CEO. His aim is to bypass established distributors and acquire films on a percentage deal basis straight from foreign producers. At the moment, all the U.S. majors are repped by local distribs.

“As an exhibitor, we can offer producers much better conditions,” Izydorczyk observed, estimating that Silesia could return 40% to 50% of the box office to the producer, sans intervention of a distributor. As things stand, Silesia is in negotiation with large local distrib ITI, which reps WB, Columbia TriStar and UIP, to release product.

Silesia Film is also looking for a foreign partner interested in investing in exhibition, to lease or acquire more theaters and to modernize its existing hardtops. Izydorczyk estimated a theater in Poland could be bought outright from the state, which is anxious to unload them, for about $ 200,000.

It could be refurbished for another $ 100,000. An even better bargain is to sign a purchase-leasing contract with the state, eventually taking over ownership after approximately five years of installment payments. The fly in the ointment is that there have been cases of former owners of real estate suddenly popping up, much to the dismay of the new “purchaser.””It’s still difficult to know exactly who owns land,” admitted Izydorczyk.

After a plunge in recent years, Polish audiences have stabilized at around 20 % of theater capacity, he notes. The current price for foreign films is $ 15,000 to $ 20,000 per title, with peaks of $ 40,000 for a film like “Dances With Wolves.”

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