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Theater taking issue with Century

Cinemas Palme D’Or, an independently owned theater near Palm Springs that has long complained of Century Theaters’ use of clearances, has issued an ultimatum to the circuit: Let us play “Cinderella Man” day-and-date or we’ll sue.

Palme retained attorney Martin Singer of Lavely & Singer, who wrote in a letter sent to the chain on Monday, “If Century refuses to immediately lift its clearance, Century, and all persons acting in concert with them, will be exposed to substantial liability.”

Century execs did not return calls requesting comment.

Palme co-owner Steve Mason said he has not yet heard a response from Century.

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

Universal Pictures releases “Cinderella Man” on June 3.

In addition to Singer, the Palme has enlisted San Francisco-based antitrust attorney Stewart Foreman of Freeland Cooper & Foreman and Beverly Hills-based entertainment lawyer Ken Browning of Browning, Jacobson & Klein.

The Palme has a long-running dispute with Century over its practice of demanding clearance for pics playing at the Century River, three miles from the Palme. Mason said since the theater opened in October 2003, it has played only a handful of titles from major distributors.

Singer wrote in its letter, “Century has engageed in antitrust violations in its dealings with the major motion picture distributors for the purpose of attempting to put my client out of business.”

The letter demands that clearance be lifted in time for the Palme to book “Cinderella Man” on June 3.

Mason said that Universal has told him that it will not book “Cinderella Man” at the Palme, opting instead for Century’s River.

In the studio’s response last week, it said, “Distributors have no control over whether competing exhibitors are willing to play day-and-date, and Universal leaves such matters to the exhibitors.”

Mason added he hopes to win on “Cinderella Man” because “once the clearance is lifted with one picture, other distributors will also begin selling day-and-date.”

And if not? “Our inclination is to move straight to litigation.”

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