Cinema Expo’s hit parade

Polygram, MGM join majors to wow Euro exhibs

AMSTERDAM — International exhibitors and senior distribution execs from the Hollywood studios gave Cinema Expo Intl. a resounding thumbs up on Wednesday as the sixth edition of the exhibition trade fair wound down.

Opinion at Amsterdam’s RAI Convention Center was that Buena Vista Intl. had once again stolen the show, wowing exhibs with Tuesday’s lavish product reel presentation and a “Hercules”-themed gala dinner.

For the U.S. majors, Cinema Expo Intl. acts as a one-stop display window for upcoming titles. UIP screened Universal’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” Warner Bros. unveiled “Batman & Robin,” Fox brought out “Volcano” and “Speed 2: Cruise Control” and BVI had standing-room-only for the well-received John Woo actioner “Face/Off.”

With a fair percentage of European screens still in the hands of indie exhibitors, Cinema Expo also lets the majors woo the theater managers who will ultimately be putting their product in front of the public. Which is where BVI hit its home run.

“The Buena Vista marketing campaign here has been really impressive,” noted a Dutch-based exhibitor. “It keeps attention focused on the Disney films and that doesn’t hurt when you’re deciding which screens to allocate to which picture.” Estimates are that BVI spent $1 million dollars for the promo reel and gala dinner — and that the money was well spent.

Both MGM and Polygram came to Amsterdam to get their message across. “We wanted to reassure exhibitors that ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ will be delivered on time and we feel we did that,” commented Larry Gleason, MGM’s president of worldwide theatrical distribution. “The reaction has been immediate, with exhibitors saying they must have the film.”

For Polygram, this was the first year that the company has screened product, in the form of British comedy “Bean.” The Polygram team scored plenty of points by having “Bean” star Rowan Atkinson drive his trademark Mini through Amsterdam and into Sunday’s gala chowdown to receive his Award for Excellence in Comedy.

“We were here to support ‘Bean’ and because we want to show that we don’t just have ambitions to be a major studio but that we can act like one too and we should be taken seriously,” commented Stewart Till, president, international, Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

The exhibition market’s biggest challenge at the moment is to try to persuade French exhibitors to attend. This year, the event clashed with France’s three-day Fete du Cinema, which gives audiences substantially reduced ticket prices to see pics.

“The Fete is established in the public’s mind and brings in a lot of people, so it’s difficult for us to move,” said Jean Labe, head of France’s National Federation of Exhibitors.

Cinema Expo co-managing director Jimmy Sunshine says he is aware of the difficulty, which is why the 1998 fair will be re-scheduled to run June 15-19. “We hope this will give the French the chance to participate,” commented Sunshine, who anticipates that the number of stand holders — tub-thumping everything from popcorn machines to the latest in projection and sound systems — will rise from this year’s 200 to closer to 240.

Among the heavyweight exhibition companies such as AMC, UCI or Warner Bros. Intl. Theaters, attention is focusing on Italy, Europe’s last virgin territory as far as multiplexes are concerned.

Poor screens and nonexistent air-conditioning inside venues restrict the Italian theatrical business to nine months a year, while legislation limiting the size and zoning of screens has kept a brake on development.

Already Warner Bros. has announced the creation of three multiplexes, UCI is looking to get into Genoa and AMC has been studying prospects for nearly four years. “The difficulty for us is that we concentrate on megaplexes of around 4,000 seats and Italy has put a 2,500 seat limit on cinemas,” lamented AMC Europe’s president, Bruno Frydman.

Frydman and other exhibition specialists know that even if they build screens in Italy business will be slow to develop. “It’s going to take time for the critical mass of modern multiplexes to exist for the distributors to start using the summer period,” said Frydman.

However, the signs are that the Hollywood majors and local distribs are keen for the Italian exhibition sector to make a late entry into the 20th century.

“We have commitments from most of the majors to supply films,” said Warner Bros. Intl. Theater’s Peter Dobson. “At the end of the day if you improve the screens, more people come to the cinema, more films get made and the local industry benefits. We have seen this in Britain and we should see it in Italy.”

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