Fithian touts global plan at Expo

Technology changing, expanding exhib biz

AMSTERDAM — Rapid globalization is the top item on the agenda at the ongoing European-focused exhib conference Cinema Expo.

“The most important issues we face today are global, and we must act globally,” said National Assn. of Theater Owners (NATO) prexy John Fithian at the Expo’s opening luncheon on Tuesday. Confab wraps Thursday.

Fithian pointed to technological changes revolutionizing the exhibition biz, such as digital cinema and the Internet, and called for increased cooperation between the U.S. and foreign trade bodies.

“There’s a need for strong local trade organizations, and NATO wants to work in collaboration with them,” Fithian said.

While there’s still an element of “us versus them” when it comes to the Euro film biz view of Hollywood, exhibs here seem to want to join hands locally to get attendance figures up.

A number of exhib chain mergers already in the works in Europe are hoping to curb overscreening and keep multiplexing profitable.

Local industryites reiterated the need for action at a session on Monday, where Dutch exhib Joachim Wolff unveiled research showing that the relationship between multiplex building and cinema attendance in Western Europe may not be as strong as once assumed.

And Dodona Research managing director Karsten-Peter Grummitt said that Germany, where new screens have risen sharply, is in danger of reaching stagnant attendance growth rates.

On the distrib side, a number of Hollywood studios are accelerating their international release dates.

That issue was singled out by execs from Columbia TriStar Intl. Film Distributors, who sponsored the Tuesday luncheon after a well-received pre-U.S. release screening of “The Patriot.”

Columbia Pictures’ worldwide distribution prexy Jeff Blake said his studio will begin the pic’s overseas roll-out on July 14, swiftly following the North American release this weekend.

“Technology has enabled everyone around the world to know more about movies right away,” Blake told Daily Variety. “And that technology doesn’t allow us to wait six months anymore” before releasing a film overseas.

Blake promised the studio will keep up the pace on upcoming foreign releases for pics such as “Hollow Man,” “Charlie’s Angels” and “Vertical Limit.”

For UIP, which unspooled DreamWorks’ “Road Trip” and Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible 2” and showed footage of Universal’s “The Grinch” on Monday night, globalism has hit in a slightly different way: Witness Vivendi’s recent announcement to purchase Universal, one of the studios that flows product through UIP internationally.

UIP chairman-CEO Paul Oneile welcomed the French conglom with a “the more the merrier” attitude.

A few international pipeline changes were also discussed during Cinema Expo.

At the Fox-hosted dinner, MGM international distribution chief Larry Gleason discussed the recent deal that will have Fox distributing MGM pics overseas later this year (Daily Variety, June 22, 1999).

“We had mixed feelings about leaving UIP, but we are happy about our new relationship with (20 Century Fox Intl. prexy) Jim (Gianopulous) and his team,” Gleason said.

Producers Barbara Broccoli and Mike Wilson plugged the James Bond pic franchise, while Gleason promised Euro exhibs that 007 would be back in 2002.

Fox also trotted out filmmakers Peter and Bobby Farrelly, who recently re-upped their deal with the studio. The Farrelly brothers announced a string of pics their shingle Conundrum will produce, including a spin-off of “Me, Myself & Irene,” which screened at Cinema Expo Tuesday night.

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