Hopes pinned on 3-D at CineAsia

Attendance down, but trade show sees regional resilience

MACAU -- 3-D technology dominated the second CineAsia trade show and convention, held Tuesday-Thursday in the South China gambling capital Macau.

Film projection equipment companies such as Christie Digital Systems, Dolby Laboratories, Barco N.V. and Doremi Cinema showcased their latest 3-D projectors and digital-cinema servers, while studios raced to screen their upcoming 3-D movies, such as Walt Disney's "Bolt" in Disney digital 3-D, clips of Paramount and DreamWorks Animation's "Monsters vs. Aliens" and Universal's "Coraline" in RealD 3-D.

"3-D is driving digital cinema today," Michael Archer, Doremi's vp digital cinema, said Thursday. "3-D releases had two-thirds more grosses than 2-D versions of the same film. As there will be 13 3-D releases in 2009, exhibitors are switching from single to multiple 3-D screens in multiplexes."

Despite the global economic downturn equipment providers remained optimistic.

"Business has slowed down a little, but there is still lots of potential for growth in China and India," said Juliana Tong, Christie's marketing manager. Christie has provided 100 3-D digital projection units to the Shanghai Film Group to install in its Shanghai United Circuit of theaters this year.

Distributors also kept their hopes high, many of them citing the argument that going to the movies is a relatively cheap form of entertainment.

Erlina Suharjono, Warner Bros. Pictures International's senior vp Asia distribution, screened the upcoming Jim Carrey comedy "Yes Man" at the convention. Business in Asia has remained steady since the economic crisis hit, Suharjono said, noting, however that depreciating currency was posing a threat to profits.

"In Korea when the currency has dropped 40%, theatrical admissions were about the same but as a result, we have 40% less gross," she said.

The downturn in the economy also took a toll on CineAsia, as has the recent terrorist bombing in Mumbai and the airport-closing anti-government protest in Bangkok.

CineAsia's attendance dropped around 15% this year, said organizer Bob Sunshine, executive director of Nielsen Business Media Film Group. The number of booths also shrank from 2007, owing mainly to the tightened purse strings of U.S. companies.

Sunshine remained hopeful for next year's event. "I can't guess when the economic crisis is going to pass, but Asia will rebound quicker than the U.S.," he said.

The convention concluded in an upbeat mood, honoring industry leaders such as Mark Zucker of Sony Pictures Releasing International, named distributor of the year. Tushar Dhingra of India's BIG Cinemas was named the exhibitor of the year.

The CineAsia Visionary Award was given to Gareth Wigan of Sony Pictures Entertainment; Sony's "Terminator: Salvation" Director McG, who was in Dubai to present the film, was honored as the Kodak Filmmaker of the Year.