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Simultaneous premieres for ‘Heaven’

German pic to appear both in theaters and PPV

LONDON U.K. distrib-exhib Curzon Artificial Eye’s decision to partner with paybox BSkyB to release Teuton-Turkish helmer Fatih Akin’s “The Edge of Heaven” simultaneously in theaters and on pay-per-view has met a mixed reception from rival U.K. exhibs.

The deal, which sees Germany’s foreign-language Oscar entry bow in U.K. cinemas Feb. 22 — the same day it will be available for BSkyB’s 8.7 million subscribers through its Sky Box Office pay-per-view platform and also be available for computer downloading for a limited time through the Sky Anytime VOD service — has sparked some concern about release windows.

Blighty’s largest cinema chain, Odeon, with 846 screens, is nixing the pic from playing on any of its screens. “We’re not going to touch the film,” says an Odeon exec, who insisted on anonymity. “Anyway, this is only a small movie with limited commercial appeal.”

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That’s the precise reason Curzon Artificial Eye execs decided to ink the groundbreaking deal with BSkyB, the first of its kind in the U.K. With a perceived homogenization of multiplex screens by mainstream fare, it has become increasingly difficult for niche distribs to find quality screens for arthouse, indie and foreign-language titles.

“We’re trying to use technology to create a more level playing field,” says Artificial Eye CEO Philip Knatchbull. “We would never have had the means to raise awareness for this film without access to Sky’s 8.7 million subscriber base. ”

Curzon Artificial Eye, which owns five arthouse theaters of its own across London, will partner with BSkyB in terms of sharing revenues generated by the pic’s different sales channels.

Knatchbull, who admits the BSkyB deal is a “one-off experiment,” is also looking at other ways to distribute titles beyond the traditional theatrical/home entertainment cycle.

In fact, other U.K. exhibs are also looking beyond traditional theatrical releases to raise revenues. Execs at City Screen — one of the U.K.’s key arthouse exhibs — have experimented with holding opera screenings and filmmaker Q&A sessions as a way of attracting auds in the face of increasing competition.

“The Curzon deal is a genuine attempt to see how best to market a small, arthouse, foreign-language film. I’m more worried about the fact that the majors will use it as an opportunity to bring forward DVD windows,” says Claire Binns, City Screen’s programming director.