Unparallel universe

Oz gov't to ban unrestricted film & vid imports

SYDNEY — The Australian government is to ban unrestricted importation of films and videos, arts minister Peter McGauran has revealed to Daily Variety, killing off a threat that has been hanging over the industry for 18 months.

The government will reject a recommendation made in April 2000 by a government-appointed competition review to allow parallel imports of film products, after a coalition repping major and independent distribs, the big three circuits, indie cinemas and the Screen Producers Assn. fought the measure.

The proposal would have allowed films or DVDs to be imported once they are for sale anywhere in the world, principally the U.S., even if they have not been released in theaters in Oz.

The government already allows parallel imports of CDs and has introduced legislation to permit open importing of books, business software and computer games.

The film industry feared that an inquiry into DVD prices by consumer watchdog the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission would put pressure on the government to allow open imports of all copyrighted products, a move favored by the ACCC.

In an address to a film industry policy forum at the Australian Intl. Movie Convention on Friday, McGauran will assure exhibs and distribs they have no cause for concern.

“The government has deliberately chosen not to include film products in any liberalization of the parallel importation regime,” McGauran told Daily Variety in a preview of his speech.

The government has shown it is sensitive to claims that the move would harm rural and regional cinemas because they could be deprived of prints of first-release films if distribs were forced to cut costs.

Kiwi exhibs hit hard

A key weapon in the industry campaign was a study of the impact of New Zealand’s decision to open its borders to film and DVD imports. The Kiwi B.O. fell by 11% last year — the first decline in nine years — blamed on importing DVDs, often before films’ theatrical release.

Half of New Zealand’s 300 cinema screens are at risk, according to the country’s Motion Picture Distributors Assn. Most are in provincial areas where the B.O. plunged by an average of 21% as exhibs had to wait up to six months for used prints after films debut in the major cities.

The Movie Convention starts today and runs through Saturday at the Royal Pines Resort on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

Rush, Noyce to be feted

Geoffrey Rush is being honored as international star of the year, Eric Bana (“Chopper,” the upcoming “Black Hawk Dawn”) is being crowned Australian star of the year, and director Phillip Noyce will receive an excellence in filmmaking nod.

So far, 720 attendees had registered, up from 680 last year. Among the films being previewed are “Rat Race,” “The Others,” “Legally Blonde,” “Rush Hour 2” and “America’s Sweethearts.”

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