European vacation

Plenty on tap for Cinema Expo

Cinema Expo Intl. — Europe’s largest exhibition confab — kicks off Monday in Amsterdam against some stiff competition.

The World Cup may have attendees keeping one eye on a movie screening or seminar and another glued to a TV.

Hollywood pics straining for attention in Amsterdam, at the same time the Cup’s quarterfinals unfold June 26-29, will include tentpoles “Superman Returns” (Warner Bros.) and “Cars” (Buena Vista Intl.), as well as Fox Intl.’s “A Good Year” and “Borat,” UIP/Universal’s “You, Me and Dupree” and “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” and Sony Intl.’s “Monster House.”

DreamWorks Animation will be on hand for a Jeffrey Katzenberg-led presentation of its upcoming toon slate, and helmer James Cameron is skedded to make an appearance to pump the future of digital 3-D pics.

Away from any arguments over soccer, digital cinema should prove to be the hot-button topic in Europe as pressure builds for exhibs and distribs to agree on plans that will push the medium forward.

D-cinema has made strides over the past year in North America, as a spate of third-party providers has inked deals that will usher pics to theaters, but in Europe the forecast is still somewhat hazy.

“Plans for digital cinema have been a bit more advanced in North America,” said National Assn. of Theater Owners’ John Fithian, who will make a keynote address with Ad Westrate, his counterpart from the Union Intl. de Cinemas, on Monday. “The business models are further developed in the States and Canada, with third parties guaranteeing a supply of product. In Europe, there’s a bit of tension over what the studios, who get huge savings, will give.”

But both sides say a detente could be on the horizon, and Cinema Expo will be fertile ground this year for side talks.

“There are several exhibitors who are ready to further the cause, and are ready to move forward,” said Joe Ortiz, exec director of sales administration for Fox Intl. “All the specs have been worked out. But there are still a few exhibitors who are on the sidelines that are not convinced that things are really ready to go and that (d-cinema) is the way of the future.”

Studios are hoping a presentation from “Titanic” helmer Cameron — a passionate advocate of 3-D cinema — will bring the issue to the fore from a filmmaker’s perspective.

The ever-shrinking distribution window also is sure to continue sparking heated debate: Though international B.O. has spiked to record levels so far this year — thanks to such pics as “Ice Age: The Meltdown” and “The Da Vinci Code” — exhibs are still hot under the collar over what they see as a major threat to their biz by the encroaching DVD sector.

“The debate (over shrinking windows) will not be tempered,” Fithian said. “(Box office) is a cyclical phenomenon, but the windows issue is a longer-term trend. It’s the primary concern of cinema operators all over the world, that shrinking windows, combined with the concept of simultaneous release, is a huge threat. And we all agree that it is a huge threat.”

To keep exhibs onsite debating such issues instead of decamping to pubs to catch soccer scores, Cinema Expo brass have set up Cup screenings at the Amsterdam RAI in between movies, and TV sets will be wheeled in during some cocktail parties and other shindigs.

Meantime, studios and exhibs will agree on at least one issue: Once the Cup is over, they can cross their fingers that upcoming pics such as “Superman” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” keep the overseas B.O. rally alive.

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