Desert battle for pic rights

The exhib world is getting its own version of David vs. Goliath.

Palm Springs indie theater Cinemas Palme d’Or has filed suit against Century Theaters, alleging the chain has consistently blocked it from access to lucrative pics.

Palme’s owners have been complaining about Century’s practices since the chain bought the Century at the River 10-plex in 2002. They allege that instead of splitting pics that have clearances so both theaters can show about half of them, the national chain has used its monopoly power to keep nearly all the best films for itself.

Suit asks for an injunction against Century so that it has to split pic clearances in the Palm Springs area, as well as for damages reaching into the millions.

Palme threatened to sue last spring if it wasn’t able to play “Cinderella Man” (Daily Variety, May 26). It didn’t get that pic, along with several others it wanted over the summer, including “March of the Penguins” and “The Constant Gardener.”

“In a zone there is typically an allocation between exhibitors, but there’s no question Century is trying to use its market power to drive us out of business,” said Palme co-owner Steve Mason.

A rep for Century didn’t return a request for comment.

Century has been the target or similar suits by independent exhibs in Northern California and New Mexico.

Palme is one of the California theaters whose complaints to State Attorney General Bill Lockyer led to an investigation into Century’s booking practices in connection with possible antitrust violations (Daily Variety, April 13).

Suit could easily last several years, but Mason insists Palme is ready for a long fight. In the meantime, it has booked several upcoming pics that fit its indie profile, including “A History of Violence” and “Oliver Twist.”

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