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Asia Exhib Spat Hits Distribbers

An exhibition battle in Asia between United Artists Theater Circuit, the world’s largest cinema operator, and the Golden Village co-venture is spilling over into film distribution.

UATC aims to solve the problem of securing enough films for its outposts in Malaysia and Singapore by launching a distrib offshoot in those two markets.

That will put UATC into direct competition with Golden Village in Singapore, and the chances are the distrib tussle will widen to other fronts.

UATC already is negotiating for its first batch of U.S. films, and intends to acquire a mix of Western and Chinese product for its distrib pipeline.

It will be a joint venture with its Malay exhib partner, Cathay Cinemas, according to Thomas Elliot, managing director of United Artists Intl. Elliot agreed the move partly is a response to the successful Singapore distrib operation of rival Golden Village.

Golden Village (partnering battle Australia’s Village Roadshow and Raymond Chow’s Golden Harvest) began releasing product in Singapore a year ago.

As Australia’s biggest distrib, Roadshow has a lot of clout with independent suppliers and has easily been able to include Singapore rights in its dealmaking.

GV in Singapore has chalked up healthy grosses releasing such titles as “The Mask” and “Dumb and Dumber” (via an output deal with New Line Intl.) and “Little Buddha.”

Golden Village is expected to launch distribution in other Asian markets, probably including Malaysia and Thailand, after firmly establishing an exhibition presence there.

Elliot stressed he won’t take a proprietary attitude to the pix he acquires, asserting, “We’ll share (with other exhibs), because that way everyone makes more money.”

Mike Doban, UATC’s L.A.-based West Coast film buyer, has been given the added chore of international film buying and named senior VP of United Artists Intl., the Hong Kong company headed by Elliot.

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