AMC Theatres to Show More Indie Films

In a boon for indie filmmakers, AMC Theatres has created AMC Select, a year-round program booking independent and studio specialty division films on at least one screen at each of 72 theaters in 39 U.S. markets. The program kicks off Friday.

The announcement, tied to AMC's partnership with the Tribeca Film Festival allowing for new uptown Manhattan screening venues, reflects the growing boxoffice impact of specialized films.

"It's all about supply and demand," AMC chairman, CEO and president Peter Brown said Tuesday. "The number of companies focused on making independent films has exploded in the past few years. At the same time, we've seen that the over-40 age group looking for quality films has been buying more tickets than ever before."

Brown said the program also reflects the vision behind the original mid-'90s creation of the megaplex to provide a wider range of programming, as well as AMC's merger with Loews Cineplex. "We said we'd take the best of both companies, and they were doing very well with specialized films," he said.

The chain plans on branding and supporting the program via its theater-specific newspaper ads. Upcoming films will include Sony Pictures Classics' "Art School Confidential," Lionsgate's docu "The U.S. vs. John Lennon," Paramount Classics' "An Inconvenient Truth" and Picturehouse's "A Prairie Home Companion."

While this represents a significant number of theaters for a major chain -- and Brown noted that most venues will be in suburbs that often have no art houses -- fewer than 25% of its 310 domestic venues and a small fraction of its 4,100 screens will be participating.

This isn't dissuading indie distributors from expressing enthusiasm over the project. "We at the Weinstein Co. applaud AMC's efforts to expand the audience for art and specialized films to new cities and theaters," AMC domestic distribution chairman Steve Bunnell said.

Added Picturehouse president Bob Berney, "AMC Select will play a big part in bringing a broad selection of films to an audience hungry for a difference."

Said SPC co-president Michael Barker: "The announcement of AMC Select is a major step forward in getting specialized film to mainstream audiences. It is both a sign of the future and one of the boldest moves in the theatrical marketplace in years."

Barker and AMC have been prominent opponents to day-and-date cross-platform releasing of independent films, while companies like HDNet argue that the strategy gets smaller films to areas where people might not otherwise see them. Nonetheless, Brown said the program is not a response to day-and-date in any way.

The distributors announced as partners include First Look, Focus Features, Fox Searchlight, Freestyle Releasing, IDP, IFC Films, Lionsgate, Magnolia Pictures, Miramax Films, Paramount Classics, Picturehouse, SPC, ThinkFilm, Warner Independent Pictures and the Weinstein Co. Brown said films from smaller indie distributors also will be considered.

Despite the partnerships, Brown said no multiple-picture deals have been struck with specialty divisions or indie companies but that he was willing to consider them. "We'll see as we go," Brown said. "Our first questions are: 'Is it a good picture? Will it find an audience?' If an independent company is producing a steady stream of good films, we might be open to that."

As for what this means for smaller, independent art house cinemas, Brown said: "It's probably too early to tell. Our films will be brought into the best venues versus older, tired and run-down theaters, which, in some markets, are in the dusk of their life cycle. (Yet) those theaters have their niche and will probably continue to have their niche."

Gregg Goldstein writes for The Hollywood Reporter.

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