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Sharing their woes

Exhibs, hoping for a financial turnaround, check out celebs, gadgets and upcoming pix

With exhibitors suffering one financial trauma after another, the tone at this year’s ShoWest should be one of doom and gloom. Organizers, however, are hoping the confab can serve as a rallying event for the industry, with a late infusion of hope coming from the record box office of January and “Hannibal” chewing up the scenery in February.

Running from today till Thursday at the Bally’s and Paris hotel-casinos in Las Vegas, events at ShoWest will include everything from the usual assortment of glam awards to stars to a display of the kinds of digital technology that companies are developing for exhibitors.

“I think it’s an important time for the industry to meet at ShoWest because of the transitions we’re going through, both financially and technologically,” says John Fithian, prexy of the National Assn. of Theater Owners, who oversee the event. “I think that there will be a spirit of renewal because the signs that we are on the turnaround from a very challenging time are beginning to show.”

The events on tap include:

Today: Event opens with the Intl. Day Breakfast hosted by Screen Intl. in the Champagne Ballroom. Afternoon events include the Intl. Day Luncheon hosted by ACNielsen EDI and Imax. An “Evening of Independent Film,” at Century’s Orleans 12 Theatres in the Orleans Hotel, will unspool “Brother,” from Sony Pictures Classics; “The Anniversary Party,” from Fine Line Features; “One Night at McCool’s,” from USA Films; “Sexy Beast,” from Fox Searchlight Pictures; and “Bread and Tulips,” from First Look Pictures.

Tuesday: The Opening Day Breakfast, sponsored by Hollywood.com/MovieTickets.com, will be in the Champagne Ballroom. Welcoming remarks by Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer and Motion Picture Assn. of America prexy Jack Valenti will take place in Le Theatre des Arts. The afternoon consists of digital cinema demonstrations in the Las Vegas, Palace and Pacific ballrooms from the likes of Sony, Panasonic, JVC Professional and NEC Technologies.

Wednesday: The day’s luncheon will be sponsored by Technicolor Digital Cinema in the Paris Ballroom. The Eastman Kodak Co. will host a seminar on the business issues of digital cinema, with participants including Cinema Operations, Screen Digest, Sony Electronics, National Cinema Network and Arena-plex. The evening’s events include a “Tomb Raider” cocktail reception in the Champagne Ballroom, hosted by Pepsi-Cola.

Thursday: The final day of the confab brings ShoWest University, with seminars on Internet movie ticketing, hiring practices and concessions. Warner Bros. will host a luncheon in the Paris Ballroom, with a product reel including never-before-seen footage from “A.I.” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” alongside clips from “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Cats and Dogs” and “Osmosis Jones.” The evening’s award ceremony and banquet is sponsored by the Coca-Cola Co.

“We’re really going to put on a show at ShoWest,” says Dan Fellman, Warner Bros. prexy of distribution. “We’re showing all our big films.”

Those thesps being awarded at ShoWest’s final night include Russell Crowe as male star of the year; Sandra Bullock as female star of the year, Heath Ledger as male star of tomorrow, Shannon Elizabeth as female star of tomorrow, Judi Dench as supporting actress of the year and Haley Joel Osment as supporting actor of the year.

On the behind-the-camera front, Wolfgang Petersen was named director of the year, “Cast Away” scribe William Broyles Jr. as screenwriter of the year, and Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown as producers of the year.

Raymond and Joseph Syufy are in line to receive the ShoWesters of the Year honor.

The buzz is heavy concerning the return of MGM to the confab after being missing in action for six years. On Tuesday in the Jubilee Theatre and in Le Theatre des Arts, the Lion will screen a product reel and unspool “Heartbreakers,” a laffer starring Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ray Liotta and Gene Hackman.

Also on Tuesday and garnering interest is the unspooling of Miramax’s “Spy Kids,” as the movie will be digitally projected to Le Theatre des Arts and the Paris Ballroom via a satellite feed provided by Boeing Digital Cinema.

Besides the buzz-generating events, there are several firsts at the confab this year. A new award, the achievement in motion picture advertising, will be bestowed on Joel Wayne, the exec VP of creative advertising at Warner Bros.

In addition, there will be a new seminar Wednesday, “The Primacy of Theatrical Exhibition.” NATO prexy Fithian will moderate the discussion, which will focus on ways movie theaters can compete in an age with video-on-demand and films on the Internet, both of which are growing in popularity.

“It’s something that’s near and dear to our hearts,” Fithian says. “The movie theater is still the first and best place to see movies. We’ll have someone from the creative community, someone from academia, someone who has studied the film industry and someone with a psychological or a sociological point of view to describe the unique feeling of going to a movie theater.”

Also for the first time this year, the Sunshine Group Worldwide will be handling the management of the confab, taking over the duty from NATO.

Looking toward the future of the event, co-manager Robert Sunshine says he wants to attract more top-name execs from the world of business.

“We want to take the presentations and seminars to a higher level,” Sunshine says. “We want the Jean-Marie Messiers, the Rupert Murdochs and Steve Cases of the world.”

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