SF Bio sets plans for Astoria chain

Swedish exhib owns 80% of theaters

STOCKHOLM — A week after becoming effectively Sweden’s sole exhib, SF Bio is setting its plans for what remains of the Astoria Cinemas chain that it bought out.

The properties have been taken over by SF Bio affil Svenska Bio, which is 51%-owned by CEO Peter Fornstam and his family.

It runs 25 cinemas with 72 screens and 9,000 seats in 24 towns across Sweden.

However, Fornstam won’t be able to hold on to all of Astoria’s seven multiplexes in Stockholm, Malmo and Gothenburg.

He believes the Grand and Victoria in Stockholm are the most viable and hopes to reopen them next month. Stockholm’s historic Astoria theater, which opened in 1936, will shutter permanently.

“There is no economy in single cinemas anymore,” said Fornstam, who aims to show smaller films rather than blockbusters in the Grand and Victoria.

“An Ingmar Bergman week is something I would really like to do,” he said as an example. Astoria has been fighting for survival since October when it applied for protection from creditors at the Stockholm District Court. Then it had an $11 million debt, including $957,000 owed to the Swedish Film Institute.

It sold all its cinemas, except those in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo, to SF Bio. But that was not enough. In May, Astoria sold a major part of the remaining cinemas to SF Bio but filed for bankruptcy in early July. Administrators have been looking for a buyer since then.

How much SF Bio paid has not been revealed but it is likely less than the 100 million kroner ($14 million) that it offered to pay for the then- Sandrew cinemas chain in 2005 — a deal that was blocked by Sweden’s anti-competition authorities.

Instead, Sandrew was bought by distribs Triangelfilm and Atlantic together with production company S/S Fladen, and renamed Astoria Cinemas.

Three years later, that company does not exist, leaving SF Bio with an 80% market share. The remaining 20% of Swedish theaters are owned by a string of small players, the largest being Folkets Hus och Parker with 3.8%.