Bryan Cranston-Owned Movie Theater Blasts Cinemark for Forcing It Out of Business

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Bryan Cranston

The upscale Cinemas Palme d'Or in Palm Desert, Calif., will cease operation this summer as another theater group takes over the lease.

Actor Bryan Cranston and the other co-owners of Flagship's Cinemas Palme d'Or in Palm Desert, Calif., say the upscale theater will go dark June 30 after a decade-long battle with mega-circuit Cinemark.

"We could no longer stay solvent because of Cinemark's constant pressure on studios and distributors to shut us out of major titles. We fought hard, but circuit-dealing has made it impossible to stay in business," said the owners in a letter sent to Hollywood studios this week.

Hours after the letter became public, Tristone Cinema Group revealed it will take over the lease for the theater, located in the Westfield Palm Desert Mall. Once renovations are complete, the cinema will reopen.

Cranston, ESPN radio personality Steve Mason, businessman Andreas Mauritzson and longtime theater executive Brian Tabor opened the 10-screen Cinema Palme d'Or in 2003 with the aim of catering to older audiences, whether that meant art house offerings or midsize studio titles. It was among the first theaters in the country to build out its own kitchen and serve alcohol.

But Mason told THR that Cinemark's nearby theater, Century The River, began demanding clearances from Hollywood studios and other film distributors, meaning if they booked a film with Cinemas Palme d'Or, that movie wouldn't get a berth in certain Cinemark locations. Cinemas d'Or filed a lawsuit that's still being fought.

"I'm devastated. They have tried to take every single movie away from us," Mason said.

Cranston issued a separate statement, saying, “Cinemark finally succeeded in driving the last nail in our coffin. We just couldn’t continue the struggle in this unfair business climate.”

In their letter, Mason and Cranston applauded Fox for its recent decision to no longer honor clearances. "Unfortunately, this positive move by one studio has come too late for us, but we hope that other studios will follow Fox and that surviving independent theaters will now be given a chance to compete on a level playing field," the letter states.

Mason said despite the closure, the litigation against Cinemark will continue. The issue of clearances also is the subject of an informal inquiry by the government.

Cinemark fired back in a statement, saying the alleged claims against it "are, and always have been, entirely without merit."

Continuing, the statement said, "Cinemark simply does not engage in 'circuit dealing.' In April 2014, the trial court dismissed Flagship's case against Cinemark in its entirety because the court found that Flagship's principals had unlawfully destroyed vast quantities of evidence during the pendency of the litigation. In addition to having its case dismissed, Flagship also was required to pay Cinemark monetary sanctions. Flagship is currently appealing that decision. Going forward, Cinemark will continue to license motion pictures at each of its theaters on a film-by-film, theater-by-theater basis."

Meanwhile, Tristone said the theater — which will get a new name — will continue catering to art house audiences.

"As a commitment to the community, we will begin renovations shortly, to provide safer access for our older guests, and a much needed update to the facility and amenities that are offered. Our goal is to preserve the art of film in cinemas for wide audiences, at an affordable price. Tristone Cinema Group is not involved with the Flagship Theatres' current lawsuit, nor do they know any details concerning it.  Our hope is to make peaceful negotiations with the other studios moving forward," the Tristone statement said.

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April 26, 2:15 p.m. Updated with Cinemark statement.

April 26, 6:15 p.m. Updated with Tristone Cinema Group statement.

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