ShowEast's honorees push the arts forward

While digital conversion and 3-D remain in the future,  the capacity for excelling in distribution and exhibition has already been realized.

"We are on the cusp of a digital revolution."

Those are the words of NATO president John Fithian, and they form the backdrop to the 24th annual ShowEast, due to take place Oct. 13-16 at the World Center Marriott in Orlando.

As some 1,500 exhibitors and distribution executives descend on the Marriott (for the last time before relocating to Miami's Fontainebleau resort hotel next year), 3-D will be at the center of the conversation, having edged out piracy as the leading buzzed-about topic.

"The financial deals are being brokered," Fithian says.

Such deals and other developments will be the topics in multiple seminars at ShowEast, including Monday's "Key Challenges for Digital Deployment on a Worldwide Scale" and "Is Latin America Falling Behind the U.S., Europe, and Asia in Terms of Digital and 3-D?" and Wednesday's "The World of 3-D," a demonstration of new technology by industry leaders, including MasterImage, XpanD and Dolby.

At the moment, the potential of digital conversion and 3-D remains just that -- potential. But the capacity for excelling in distribution and exhibition has already been realized by those to be honored at this year's gathering.

See also: Profile of Kodak honoree Edward Zwick

Griselda Fortunato
Managing director, Warner Bros. and Fox Argentina
ShowEast International Achievement in Distribution Award

Eleven years ago, Fortunato, managing director for both Warner Bros. and Fox Argentina, was about as far from the movie industry as one could get -- she was an executive who held internationally based positions at Exxon, Bank of America and Chase Manhattan Bank.

So Fortunato was surprised to be named the recipient of ShowEast's International Achievement in Distribution Award this year -- though, she says, "I do believe I have helped form a very professional and competitive team, and we are one of the best distribution companies in Argentina."

Her company is a joint venture between Warners and 20th Century Fox, which she joined just in time to work on the release of 1997's "Titanic," the highest-grossing film in Argentina until 2007's "The Simpsons Movie," another picture Fortunato helped distribute.

"This is the best position I have ever held," she says. "It's also the most fun."

Fortunato receives her award on Monday.

Ken Higgins
Vp and head of film, Cinemark Intl.
International Achievement Award in Exhibition

Bringing an established corporation to a foreign country is never an easy task, but making a go of it can produce some dramatic results.

Higgins, this year's recipient of the International Achievement Award (to be presented Monday), was instrumental in opening Cinemark's first non-U.S. theater in 1993 (in Chile), with a second theater in Mexico the following year. There are now 1,020 Cinemark theaters in Mexico.

Higgins says it's a complicated job to oversee company operations in 12 foreign countries, as he does today from his worldwide headquarters in Plano, Texas. One major challenge is moving into the digital and 3-D realms, with which Cinemark has only begun to experiment.

"There have been hindrances for studios, a lot of timing issues getting prints into these countries," he says. "Digital will definitely help speed up release dates and help with wider release."

Though he expects the conversion to take place over the next few years, there are obstacles -- among them, negotiating with studios over additional international costs and tariffs, as well as potential shipping issues. After that, he says, begins the coordination of installations and employee training in different nations.

"In my career, this is definitely something I want to see through," he says. "And then I guess I'll prepare myself for the next challenge."

Larry Collins
Senior vp film, Carmike Cinemas
Show 'E' Award

As the rest of the industry worries about converting to digital and 3-D, Carmike Cinemas' Collins feels he's sitting in the catbird seat. That's because Carmike was an early adopter of digital projection. "We went through our hard times two to three years ago," he explains. "Now we get to sit back and enjoy ourselves" while the rest of the industry catches up.

Successfully navigating Carmike's digital rollover is just one of the reasons Collins is receiving this year's Show "E" Award on Thursday. The award is presented to an industry member "whose achievements, accomplishments and dedication to the industry are unequaled," according to ShowEast organizers.

During his four decades in the business, Collins has worked in both distribution and exhibition, with positions at Universal Pictures, Milgram Theatres, Cinemette Theaters and Cinema World Theaters. He signed on with the Columbus, Ga.-based Carmike nearly 15 years ago as a film buyer and was promoted to his current post in 2005.

Notes Collins, one great advantage to having digital systems in place is that the company no longer gets caught with an overcapacity crowd and just one 35mm print. "On a Friday night, we can go from one auditorium to five auditoriums (playing the same film) with the press of a button."

Nancy Klueter
Vp exhibitor relations, Walt Disney Motion Pictures
Al Shapiro Distinguished Service Award

As any ambitious employee might, Klueter did as she was told back in 1992, when her boss asked her to join the board of Variety's Tent 25, the Southern California chapter of the international children's charity. Never mind that she had "no idea" what was involved or what it would eventually mean to her life.

In Klueter's case, that boss was Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook, then head of distribution for the company. "If Dick Cook asks, you don't refuse," she jokes.

After being handed the charity's Gold Heart Pin program, which raises money for special needs children, in 2000, Klueter mixed her career with her volunteer work and secured permission to use the Mickey Mouse logo on the charity's pin, which was then sold by major nonparticipating U.S. exhibitors in their theaters.

By 2004, Klueter was named Chief Barker (board president, to noninsiders) of Tent 25. Within two years the charity's net income increased from $1.2 million to $2 million and her 2006 fundraising campaign for the Lifetime Achievement Award Journal -- a commemorative book presented to Cook -- brought in over $1 million.

It is for these deeds that Klueter is being recognized with the Al Shapiro Distinguished Service Award on Thursday.

So how has mixing charity work with the Mouse affected her life? "I've found a second passion," says Klueter, now a vp of Variety Intl. and chairman of the board of Tent 25. "I get a lot of personal gratification from my career at Disney, but to have such an impact on children that have limited opportunities just fills up my heart."

Clark Woods
President of domestic theatrical distribution, MGM
Salah M. Hassanein Humanitarian Award

When it comes to his charity work for Variety Children's Lifeline and Variety Intl., among others, Woods knows he makes the biggest impact by working his corporate connections to bring in funds. But what keeps him motivated, he says, are the stories of those whose lives are improved by his efforts.

Woods tells of a 17-year-old New Jersey kid with the brain capacity of an infant, whose family couldn't afford a $15,000 custom-built car seat to transport him. "He could never leave home," Woods says. "We took care of it."

Success stories like these are the reason Woods will receive ShowEast's Salah M. Hassanein Humanitarian Award, named after the theatrical executive, on Thursday. Woods, who assumed his current position at MGM in 2006 after working for 25 years at Paramount, served as president of Variety, the Children's Charity of Southern California, Tent 25, from 1995-96. Currently, he is a member of Variety Children's Lifeline board, which Hassanein chairs. Woods is also a vp of Variety Intl. and treasurer of the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers.

"I work on a lot of the much bigger projects," Woods explains, "but the individual stories really resonate."