ShowEast kicks off

Organizers relieved problems aren't worse

ORLANDO — ShowEast 2001 kicks off today with the standard opening-day sessions on international exhibition and the usual rah-rah from proponents of digital cinema — all amid a sense of relief that the predictable is still possible.

There’s expected to be a 12% drop in showgoers this year, and booth displays are down 8%. But organizers seem happy that slippage hasn’t been worse after U.S. terrorist attacks added to exhibs’ anxiety over the current state of the business.

“We’re proud of our industry,” said Bob Sunshine of organizer Sunshine Group Worldwide. “We think they’re trying to show people that the nation is getting back to normal by coming out and supporting a show like this.”

An estimated 1,100 attendees will be on hand at the Marriott World Center, and 304 booths will cover more than 29,000 square feet of exhibit space. Security has been boosted at the large Disney-owned resort complex, with the presence of round-the-clock sheriff’s deputies and more methodical I.D. checks at shuttle-bus operations.

A few weeks ago, organizers moved some planned Tuesday afternoon events into this morning’s sked to minimize the time people would have to be away from their families, Sunshine said. But much of this year’s declines in attendance and floor space are attributable to recent industry downsizing and consolidation, rather than reluctance to travel. Less than 3% of registrants cancelled after the Sept. 11 tragedies, organizers estimated.

On the other hand, U.S. exhibition continues to reel from an industrywide financial crisis that’s sent a dozen circuits to bankruptcy court, spurred the closing of thousands of older theaters nationwide, and prompted ownership turnover at several chains. The trouble stems from the time when circuits built too many megaplexes. The construction mania was followed by a severe debt hangover and cutthroat competish among rival circuits.

Organizers cited industry retrenchment as the chief reason for smaller-than-anticipated attendance at ShowEast 2000. This year, the confab’s first in Orlando, they are counting their blessings that backsliding has been relatively modest.

Among exhibs, only digital sound vendor DTS canceled its booth, though the Universal City-based company will sponsor a Friday luncheon.

“Our company has decided that it is in the best interest of our employees that we do not travel at this delicate time,” DTS said in a letter to “valued customers, partners and friends.”

The decision to sit out the show was made with great difficulty, DTS business development director Michael Archer said.

“All that aside, most people are pretty upbeat about this show,” Sunshine said.

To bolster those sentiments, organizers recently skedded for Thursday a keynote address by Hollywood cheerleader Jack Valenti. Engagement reps the Motion Picture Assn. of America chief’s first ShowEast address in several years. He annually gives a state-of-the-industry talk to exhibs at Las Vegas’ ShoWest confab. Valenti will be joined at the ShowEast podium by National Assn. of Theatre Owners prexy John Fithian for remarks being billed as “Hollywood and the Unification of America.”

“I’m looking at it as a little bit of a pep rally, from which people will come out feeling good about their industry,” said Sunshine, who noted that exhibs’ responses to the nation’s upheaval include Victims Benefit Day on Sept. 18. For that event, thousands of theater operators and studio distribs donated the day’s box office and concession receipts to disaster relief efforts.

Meanwhile, for all the anomalies of its timing this year, ShowEast 2001 will feature the usual array of topic discussions, screenings and floor demos.

Though exhibitors seem as resistant as ever to overtures from proponents of digital distribution and projection systems, digital doings planned for today include an update on efforts to formulate engineering standards for digital cinema and product pitches from hardware vendors. Also, three upcoming holiday releases — Sony Pictures Classic’s “Crush,” Warner Bros.’ “Ocean’s Eleven” and Miramax’s “Kate & Leopold” — will be screened in digital.

“It’s the most films we’ve ever shown in digital at a convention,” Sunshine noted.

Boeing Digital Cinema will beam “Kate & Leopold” via satellite, while the other two will be stored in advance on a file server located at a local AMC Entertainment multiplex being used for screenings. Company hopes its participation will promote its digital cinema products and services.

“We will be using actual hardware (that’s) representative of what can be put into theaters,” said Frank Stirling, exec director of Boeing Digital Cinema.

Components include a turnkey package of satellite downlink, decryption and decompression technology plus a file server for storing downloaded movies. Boeing Digital Cinema hasn’t priced its system yet but will be demonstrating the hardware at its booth, Stirling said.

Several conventionally projected screenings are also planned for ShowEast: New Line’s “I Am Sam,” Disney’s “The Count of Monte Cristo” and Miramax’s “40 Days & 40 Nights.” Specialty pics slotted to screen include Sony Classics’ “The Devil’s Backbone,” Paramount Classics’ “Sidewalks of New York” and IFC’s “The Business of Strangers.”

New Line also will show a 26-minute clip of its upcoming “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” and hold a “Rings”-themed party.

Several industry vets will be awarded career accolades at ShowEast.

Domestically, those receiving awards include producer Jerry Weintraub, Kodak Award for film industry achievement; AMC Entertainment film marketing prexy and head film buyer Richard “Richie” Fay, Al Shapiro Distinguished Service Award for motion picture industry betterment; Rick Sands and Mark Gill, Miramax distrib and marketing toppers, respectively, Show “E” Award for improving the motion picture industry experience; and Loeks-Star Theaters co-owner Barrie Lawson-Loeks, Salah Hassanein Humanitarian Award for community contributions.

Internationally, Diego Lerner of Buena Vista Intl. will be honored for distrib achievement and Victory Carrady of Caribbean Cinemas will reap a kudo on the exhib side.

A new round of inductees to the ShowEast Hall of Fame also will be feted.

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