New exhib execs are coming soon

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The nation's second- and third-largest movie circuits soon will have new film-licensing toppers.

Bob Lenihan, a former film buyer at Century Theatres, will fill an open spot at No. 2 chain AMC Entertainment, and Weinstein Co. distribution chairman Steve Bunnell is jumping to Cinemark, where he will replace the outgoing John Lundin.

Lenihan will effectively fill a spot vacated by the August 2007 retirement of longtime film head Dick Walsh. Lenihan's appointment has been approved by AMC chief Gerry Lopez, who recently replaced the ousted Peter Brown atop the Kansas City, Mo.-based chain, and an announcement is expected soon.

Cinemark also has been in transition following a merger with the smaller Century chain, whose top execs Raymond and Joseph Syufy now sit on the board of Plano, Texas-based Cinemark.

Lundin is a 15-year veteran of Cinemark and has been vp film licensing since September 2000. Bunnell, who worked at Loews Cineplex and Mann Theatres prior to his distribution stint, now will head all film-buying activities at Cinemark.

It was unclear whether Bunnell's position will be refilled at the Weinstein Co., where distribution vet Tom Ortenberg recently came aboard as film president.

"Being a film buyer is more in my DNA than distribution, which I haven't done as long," Bunnell said.

Bunnell will remain on the job at the Weinstein Co. until May 15, when he will relocate to Texas.

"This is a great opportunity for Steve as he moves back to working in exhibition, and he does it with our full support," Weinstein Co. co-toppers Bob and Harvey Weinstein said Tuesday.

AMC, which is privately owned by a firm controlled by JPMorgan Chase and Apollo Management, operates nearly 4,600 screens in the U.S. and about 450 in four other countries. Publicly traded Cinemark has nearly 3,700 domestic screens and 1,000-plus abroad.

Elsewhere on the exhibition landscape, a deadline approaches for bids on more than 1,000 screens operated by Dedham, Mass.-based National Amusements.

The auction — which does not involve several National theaters in New York and New England or its Latin American or Russian screens — is expected to bring a close to first-round bidding in late April. The sale process was prompted by the financial woes of Viacom topper Sumner Redstone.

There have been few, if any, offers for all of the assets for sale, which are concentrated in the Northeast and also include about two dozen U.K. screens. But Citigroup, conducting the auction for National, is expected to accept bids based on select theaters, despite its encouraging offers for all theaters that are on the block.

"The whisper is, 'Send us an offer on whatever you do want to place a bid on,' " an exec with a rival circuit said. "But I think there are only two people in the whole world who really know what they are going to do."

That would be Redstone and his daughter, National president Shari Redstone; neither is talking.

At least 60 briefing books have been distributed to prospective suitors, with separate books circulating on domestic and international assets. Several parties are believed to have signed non-disclosure agreements in exchange for access to the circuit's financial data. (partialdiff)
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