Circuito Cinema owns, manages 90 screens in Italy

ROME — While the idea of rival arthouse distribs joining forces for the common good of their releases may sound like an impossibly Utopian notion, four direct competitors in the Italian quality-film sector have found a successful formula to ensure against being shoved out of the increasingly crowded marketplace.

Established in 1996, with a handful of screens in Rome, the Circuito Cinema exhibition network now owns, manages or programs approximately 90 screens across Italy, with theaters in almost all the country’s key cities.

“This is possibly the only situation of its kind in the world,” said Circuito Cinema president Valerio De Paolis, who heads arthouse banner BIM Distribuzione. “We’re four distributors competing for the same market and often fighting for the same titles at Cannes and other festivals. But when we get together as exhibitors, we’re working with a common goal.”

In addition to BIM, initial investors in the exhibition company were distribs Mikado and Istituto Luce, joined two years ago by fourth partner Lucky Red. Since its inception, Circuito Cinema has posted small but steady profits, which are reinvested to expand the group’s national screen count. New miniplexes are being restructured in Milan, Naples, Florence and Catania.

With the belated boom in Italy of the multiplex phenomenon, independent single-screen theaters have steadily disappeared, reducing the number of traditional venues for arthouse product. As larger distribs with increased exhibitor muscle extend their slates to include arthouse titles, the available turf for quality releases risks becoming even narrower.

But the continuing expansion of Circuito Cinema means that arthouse-identified theaters remain a fixture on the national exhibition map, providing a stable home for the backers’ releases and also those of rival distribs such as Medusa and pubcaster RAI’s 01 unit with titles that fit the theaters’ profile.

“We show only quality films, and being distributors as well makes us especially enlightened exhibitors,” adds De Paolis. “We stagger our respective releases wherever possible to avoid opening with titles that target the same public. And having these theaters means we can keep our films on screens long enough for them to find an audience.”

Titles that registered strong core business on Circuito Cinema screens in recent months include “Kandahar,” “Amelie” and “The Piano Teacher” from BIM; “Santa Maradona” and “The Profession of Arms” from Mikado; “The Others” and “Tanguy” from Lucky Red; and “The Religion Hour” from Luce.

The network is expected to exceed 100 screens by the end of the year. With the audience in cities growing for original-language releases as opposed to the traditional availability of only dubbed Italian-lingo versions, plans are under way to introduce regular weekly programming of Italian-subtitled original version prints.

“Our aim is to continue expanding both our number of theaters and our profits,” says De Paolis. “But the most important concern for us is distributing our releases in the best way possible. Inevitably, this means maintaining an interest in exhibition.”

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