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ShowEast 2007 wound to an awards-filled conclusion Thursday after a four-day run marked by well-received screenings by specialty distributors and others and some passionate cheerleading by proponents of 3-D and digital cinema.

A slight downtick in fall boxoffice hasn't rattled exhibition noticeably, with most still basking in the afterglow of a record summer. As for what the important holiday season might bring, most of those here seemed content to take things as they come — some initial skepticism from the analyst community notwithstanding.

Wedbush Morgan Securities this week predicted flat exhibition-industry revenue in the fourth quarter. Ticket-price increases should compensate for a softer holiday slate this year, the investment firm said.

Final-day screenings at ShowEast included Overture Films' "Mad Money," directed by Callie Khouri ("Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood"), and two MGM-distributed films — "The Mist," Frank Darabont's Stephen King adaptation from Dimension, and "The Great Debaters," a Weinstein Co./Harpo production helmed and toplined by Denzel Washington.

Darabont, who penned and directed adaptations of King's "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile," told The Hollywood Reporter that audiences might be in for a surprise from his latest film, shown here for the first time to exhibitors.

"Anybody who has been paying attention would expect a certain kind of Stephen King movie from me," Darabont said.

After a dramatic pause punctuated by a wide smile, he added: "This is not that movie. It's an edgier, darker, less kindler-gentler sort of film."

Darabont and Dimension topper Bob Weinstein introduced the horror-laced film for the ShowEast audience. "I promise you we will kick ass with this movie," Weinstein enthused.

Washington offered introductory remarks via a recorded video, noting that he was still in postproduction on a final version of "Debaters."

Thursday's screenings followed film presentations earlier in the week by such specialty shops as Focus Features, Picturehouse and Fox Searchlight, reflecting a growing tilt at the convention and in the industry toward niche pics.

Historically, ShowEast has been known for showing major holiday releases to regional and national exhibitors hungry for an early bead on the all-important season. But it's always been difficult for distributors to supply finished films of that sort to the fall convention.

So seeing an opportunity for specialty films looking to stretch tight marketing budgets, ShowEast organizers and indies have suddenly become something of a match made in confab heaven.

ShowEast leans toward the mom-and-pops of the exhibition industry, and some of the smaller fry among this year's attendees seemed pretty jazzed by the niche fare being shown.

"It's very exciting," said Adam Greenbaum of Visulite Cinema in Staunton, Va. "It just seems like a very rich season. It's also interesting to see how the line has blurred between specialty and mainstream films."

ShowEast co-managing director Mitch Neuhauser stressed that more conventional mainstream fare, such as this year's "Enchanted" from Disney and "P.S., I Love You" from Warner Bros., always will have a place at the convention.

"Our goal is to try to put together the most well-rounded, diverse schedule of films as possible," Neuhauser said.

Hot-button industry topics aired in panel discussions this week included 3-D and digital projection, online marketing and on-screen cinema advertising. At least one top distribution executive urged the assembled exhibitors to proceed prudently on the latter.

"On-screen ads take away from where the attention should be on — trailers," Fox International co-president Tomas Jegeus said. "It's here and appears to be here to stay, but when (exhibitors sell) cinema advertising to direct competitors, that's a very alarming trend."

Specifically, Jegeus cited ads promoting TV shows as potentially cannibalizing exhibitors' core customer base.

Star power at ShowEast's closing gala included Darabont's picking up an award as filmmaker of the year, while "Grace Is Gone" topliner John Cusack on Wednesday copped star-of-the-year honors.

New Line distribution president David Tuckerman was feted as this year's Show "E" recipient for career excellence, and Warners' Scott Forman received a distinguished service award. National Amusements topper Shari Redstone was honored with the Salah Hassanein Humanitarian Award.

Meanwhile, there was considerable attendee relief that long-running renovations at the convention's recent home had mostly been completed by the time the 23rd annual edition kicked off Monday. The Orlando Marriott World Center's sports bar was closed, sending baseball fans scurrying elsewhere in the huge hotel to catch playoff telecasts, but that was nothing compared to the sawdust and hammering of some recent editions of ShowEast.

The convention tallied 1,183 paid registrants in its 23rd year, up from 1,158 at ShowEast 2006. The event returns to Orlando for a ninth time on Oct. 13-16, 2008, before a move to the renovated Fontainebleau hotel on Miami Beach in 2009.
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