ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Thanksgiving is still a month away, but the exhibitors gathered at the 13th annual ShowEast convention are already counting their blessings.

National Assn. of Theatre Owners president Bill Kartozian set the tone Wednesday morning by telling exhibs that they have plenty to be thankful for this year.

“The number of domestic theatrical admissions will be the highest in 40 years,” Kartozian told more than 1,000 industryites assembled in the Trump Taj Mahal’s Xanadu Theater.

“Our partners in production and distribution now recognize that their movies can do business 365 days a year. The investment companies recognize our value. The best is yet to come.”

Kartozian said the days of reminiscing about the grand movie palaces of yesteryear are over because there have “never been palatial palaces like today’s theaters.”

In his upbeat presentation, Kartozian acknowledged that the consolidation sweeping the exhibition industry will result in “new economics that create legitimate concerns.” However, he encouraged theater operators to take a long view.

In past years, Kartozian has used his annual state-of-the- industry speech to take the studios to task on such issues as the narrowing window between a film’s theatrical debut and its release to homevideo. This year, Kartozian had no complaints about the way Hollywood is treating exhibitors.

In fact, he complimented Warner Bros. and its head of distribution Barry Reardon for pioneering a new reel system that saves exhibs time and money. New Line, also owned by Time Warner Inc., will be the next distributor to adopt the labor-saving reel, Kartozian said.

The only negative remarks in Kartozian’s speech were reserved for lawmakers at both the state and national level who threaten to reduce profits by implementing admissions taxes and raising the minimum wage.

This year’s ShowEast has seen the emergence of Miramax Films as a major supporter of the convention, a role long played by New Line Cinema, which is screening three films this year.

Last year, Miramax held a late-night screening of Wes Craven’s “Scream,” which was released by its Dimension genre label. This year, Craven was honored with a ShowEast lifetime achievement award during a luncheon sponsored by Miramax. Presenting the award to Craven was newly promoted Dimension president Cary Granat, who told exhibs that “Scream” is about to become a trilogy.

The waiters and waitresses at the lunch wore “Scream 2″ T-shirts and attendees were given baseball caps emblazoned with the logo of the film, which Dimension plans to release on 3,000 screens Dec. 12.

In case there aren’t that many screens available, Miramax exec veepee of distribution Neil Blatt joked that he has a construction crew standing by to help him meet the ambitious goal set by Miramax co-chairman Bob Weinstein.

The lunch followed a rough cut of Miramax’s “Good Will Hunting,” starring Robin Williams, Matt Damon and Minnie Driver. Exhibs reacted enthusiastically to the pic about a troubled genius that was directed by Gus Van Sant from a script by Damon and Ben Affleck.

There was also praise for Warner Bros.’ Bill Murray starrer “The Man Who Knew Too Little” from helmer Jon Amiel and MGM’s “Deceiver” from the Pate brothers.

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