LONDON — Odeon Cinemas, the U.K.’s largest theater chain, is joining forces with the British Film Institute in a pioneering initiative to bring arthouse pics to a wider audience.
Odeon has agreed to set aside one screen in eight theaters around the country for the BFI to program with alternative fare.
Films in the initial run, which starts April 28, will include Fox’s “Boys Don’t Cry,” FilmFour’s “Holy Smoke” and Buena Vista’s “Mansfield Park,” as well as the BFI’s own reissue of the British classic “A Matter of Life and Death.”
The BFI already programs its own regional arthouse theaters, but this is the first time the org has pushed its way into the mainstream. Now it is negotiating similar deals with other leading exhibitors. Sources at Warner Village, for example, say it is likely to hand over three screens at its new Birmingham 30-plex for the BFI to program.
Director Terry Gilliam, who sits on the BFI board, is one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the new initiative, which will be marketed under the banner “BFI at the Odeon.”
“This will encourage adventurous people to be adventurous about the films they see,” he told Daily Variety. “At the moment the choice of films in England, and even in London, is the worst in the world.”
“We thought the multiplexes were going to give us greater choice, but we just got ‘Titanic’ on every screen. But now at last there are so many screens out there that exhibitors are realizing they might as well be bold and put something interesting in.”
Paul Brett, the BFI’s head of cinema services, said, “The U.K. urgently needs more screens for specialized films. This initiative is just the beginning of a resurgence in arthouse cinema — movies for grownups.”
The eight Odeons already committed to the scheme are in Birmingham, Liverpool, Ipswich, Maidstone, Bournmouth, Cheltenham, Guilford and Epsom.
As well as new releases, the BFI will program “festivals” at these cinemas, showcasing either films from a single country or the work of one filmmaker or actor.
Ross James, marketing director of Odeon, said: “We’re fanatical about film, and determined to give our customers more choice. This initiative is all about offering people the chance to experiment a little.”
Odeon has done extensive research to prove that the demand is there, and the programming in each town will be tailored closely to the local audience.
The cinema managers will be heavily involved with the BFI’s choices, and are already seizing the opportunity for creative local marketing.