Movie theater operators in upbeat mood

Cinema Expo attendees believe digital, 3-D will boost biz

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AMSTERDAM -- Exhibs just wanna have fun.

Despite the global recession, movie theater operators were in festive mood during Cinema Expo, which ended its four-day run at the RAI convention center on Thursday -- and why not? As in the U.S., boxoffice is booming in most international territories.

The credit crunch has stalled many digital screen conversions. But exhibs came away pleased with sneak peeks of films screened throughout the week, and most believe d-cinema and 3-D projection will spread through the marketplace eventually, further bolstering business.

"It's been a really great week, with many exciting movies and exciting lineups," said Peter Janovsky of Hollywood Megaplex, which operates 48 screens in five Austrian theaters. "In 2009, we have had a very good year -- the best in three years -- and the future looks positive."

Studio participation also remained strong, though as with recent domestic confabs, Universal sat out Cinema Expo this year. Film distribs are clearly cognizant that foreign receipts now account for half of the boxoffice, and on many pics, international grosses outpace domestic coin.

That was the case as far back as 1997-98, when James Cameron's "Titanic" rang up twice as much boxoffice overseas as in the U.S. and Canada. So it was fitting that the clear highlight of this year's confab was Tuesday's presentation of a 24-minute clip of first-ever public footage from Cameron's "Avatar," set for worldwide release by Fox on Dec. 18.

Cameron and several cast members flew in to promote the 3D sci-fi actioner. Those included Sam Worthington and sci-fi icon Sigourney Weaver, who was lustily cheered by the audience at the "Avatar" event.

Tony Adamson of DLP Cinema -- which sponsored a closing-day luncheon -- predicted the motion capture-and-live action hybrid would "forever change cinema."

Cinema Expo organizers -- like The Hollywood Reporter, part of Nielsen Business Media -- were pleased with support for the 18th installment of the confab despite a 12% dip in attendance to 1,130 paid registrants and a 22% drop in exhibitors to 175 booths.

"We're thrilled with the numbers," show co-managing director Mitch Neuhauser said. He blamed the declines on effects of the recession rather than first-time competition from trade show newcomer European Cinema Summit, which staged an event last week in Brussels.

Tech companies tend to sponsor confab banquets these days, following a withdrawal of studio funding several years ago. Marketing was Thursday's luncheon theme, with execs touting various promo strategies.

Adnan Akdemir, CEO of Istanbul-based Eurasia Cinemas, detailed the circuit's theater-membership program. "It entitles members to buy one ticket and get two, and a mobile phone operator pays its costs," Akdemir said.

Youry Bredeworld, a Netherlands-based senior manager for Pathe's theater chain, said its own membership-card program accounts for 5% of all Dutch movie admissions and 18% of Pathe's ticket sales in the territory.

Summit Entertainment used the lunch to tout upcoming releases for a crowd used to thinking of Summit as simply an international rights acquirer rather than in its more recent incarnation as a mini-major producer and distributor.

Summit International president David Garrett introduced a show reel featuring fourth-quarter releases such as horror pic "Sorority Row," the animated "Astro Boy" and "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" and 2010 openers including the Brendan Fraser comedy "Furry Vengeance," Roman Polanski's mystery thriller "The Ghost" and Joan Jett biopic "The Runaways." Earlier in the week, Summit screened summer youth comedy "Bandslam."

After the luncheon, Sony screened "The Taking of Pelham 123," which despite the trend toward so-called day-and-date global releases has yet to unspool in most European territories.