Carmike exec: Art films come with challenges

John Lundin: "Our problem is to try to develop a market that can be lucrative for both ourselves and the distributors."

ORLANDO -- Mainstream movie circuits have sought to incorporate art films into their programming mix in recent years, but with specialty product comes special challenges.

"We are a circuit of small towns," Carmike Cinemas vp film John Lundin said during an indie-film panel discussion Tuesday at ShowEast. "We feel there is an audience there, but our problem is to try to develop a market that can be lucrative for both ourselves and the distributors."

Too often, specialty-film distributors demand terms on par with those for more commercial fare, he said.

Art films, often marketed through film societies and other niche groups, take time to spread via word-of-mouth. But from the first week in theaters, distributors expect circuits to offer indie pics as frequently in the programming mix as major studio releases, panelists said.

"There are still some films, such as foreign-language films, that really only belong in one theater in some markets," Cleveland Cinemas president Jon Forman said.

Unless they are Spanish-language pics, that is. Lionsgate and Televisa recently launched Pantelion Films to tap the huge Hispanic moviegoing market in the U.S.

"There are 50 million Latinos in the U.S.," Pantelion chief Paul Presburger said. "That's more than there are Canadians in Canada or Spaniards in Spain."

The new label will produce and acquire Spanish- and English-language movies with Latino themes. Pantelion screened a first title, "From Prada to Nada," after Tuesday's panel.

Elsewhere on the specialty front, many art house operators have their own programming experiments in progress. To cope with market pressures in the ever-challenging niche, many venues regularly program more commercial genre fare from indie distributors.

"We do feel that we have a responsibility to our audience," Forman said. "But we also are running a business, and sometimes that means playing a film that you're not necessarily really proud of."

Eric Carr, vp exhibitor marketing at Focus Features, said positive reviews from critics can be used to good effect in marketing a film.

"We work on that with the exhibitors, who can use the reviews on their websites, and we also make use of those in our marketing materials," he said.

Social-networking sites are best viewed as a means of creating movie awareness rather than to push ticket sales, PMK-BNC exec vp Marian Koltai-Levine said.

Earlier Tuesday, several indie distributors presented show reels to the assembled exhibitors. Those tubthumping their slates included Pantelion, Focus, Fox Searchlight, Roadside Attractions, Summit Entertainment and the Weinstein Co.

Execs seemed pleased with the first-time opportunity to present product reels at the confab.

"There was a lot of energy in the room," Focus distribution president Jack Foley said. "I think it went well."

ShowEast continues through Thursday at the Marriott Orlando World Center.