LONDON — Landmark London theaters the Curzon Soho and Gate Cinema are among 209 venues that will get a digital makeover paid for by the U.K. Film Council.

The Digital Screen Network is projected to cost $21.4 million.

Successful applicants will be fitted with digital projectors for free in return for a pledge to screen more specialized films. Selected sites include 129 multiplexes, 31 mainstream independent exhibs and 49 arthouse locations.

“Many cinemagoers often only get the pick of a crop of big-budget blockbuster films, particularly outside London,” said new film minister James Purnell. “That is going to change. The groundbreaking digital network will give film fans more choice.”

Priority was given to applicants in areas with few specialized cinemas, such as Warrington and Sunderland in the north of the country and Torbay and Totnes in the south, and to those who promised to educate local auds and provide marketing for specialized titles.

Almost all docs and foreign-language pics will qualify as specialized. The definition for English- language pics is less clear-cut.

According to Pete Buckingham, U.K. Film Council distrib and exhib chief, pics with a strong filmmaking style (“Memento”) or niche appeal (“Palindromes”) qualify. The intention is to screen more non-Hollywood pics but not to rule out indie films distributed by U.S. majors such as Fox’s “Sideways.”

According to Buckingham, DSN venues will retain 99% control over their programming.

Applicants have to provide the Film Council one screening slot every month although some will set aside more. Buckingham wants to use these for one-off screenings across the network to unify the circuit. Distribs will be able to pitch pics for these slots.

Digital installations, carried out by the DSN’s management firm, Arts Alliance Digital Cinema, are scheduled to be completed within 18 months and be fully operational in spring 2007.