FILM / MMC hammer: Are the independent cinemas losing out on the big movies? Peter Guttridge canvasses industry opinion

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The Independent Culture
LAST WEEK the Monopolies and Mergers Commission published a hefty 400-page inquiry (HMSO, pounds 28) into restrictive practices in British film distribution. It concluded that the present system favours the major distributors and the big cinema chains at the expense of the independent sector. But opinion is divided over whether the changes the report suggests will really result in a wider range of films playing at cinemas near you . . .

'I thought it was important I should be able to compete on a level playing field, but I couldn't because of the alignment between distributors and exhibitors, and because I was pressured to take movies for longer than I wanted. But there are still plenty of excuses for people not to give you films.' Philip Knatchbull of the Richmond Filmhouse, who initiated the MMC report by complaining to the Office of Fair Trading

'Accusations that people don't get product is outdated nonsense. Our criteria for providing films is the exhibitor's proven success, the ability to play the movie with the right facilities and prompt payment. We insist on a four-week minimum rental period because we are investing so much that we want to get the maximum return. For The Lion King, the total marketing budget is pounds 2m. It costs pounds 700 just to get a print to a cinema. We should be able to name our terms.' Robert Mitchell, marketing director of Buena Vista (the distribution arm of Walt Disney)

'Competition is actually easing now. Since the arrival of the multiplex system - which changed everything because all those screens are greedy for whatever films they can get - alignment is not such an issue. The report appears to be an intelligent job, but it does beg a huge question. Why was the 1983 MMC report (which condemned alignment but did not recommend taking action against it) ignored?' David Puttnam, producer

'US films take over 90 per cent of the UK box-office. The government has declined a golden opportunity to improve the chances of seeing more British films in cinemas.' Wilf Stevenson, head of the BFI

'According to the latest government statistics there are 1585 screens at 476 sites in Britain. The average number of prints made for a film is about 200. For a big film like Jurassic Park there would be 400 prints - enough to cover almost every site. Supply of prints on the 'day and date' of release has improved significantly. But you know there isn't one exhibitor in the country who gets every film they want and every copy they want.' John Wilkinson, head of the Cinema Exhibitors' Association, which represents 90 per cent of UK cinema operators

'We lost out when distributing Robert Altman's Short Cuts in March because we couldn't get the screens we wanted in competition with Schindler's List and Shadowlands. Everybody is pretty underwhelmed by the report. The grievance tribunal (to which exhibitors can go if they feel they are being discriminated against) doesn't really help because by the time a grievance is settled, the film will have been gone a year. Nothing is going to change today.' Robert Beeson of Artificial Eye, film distributors and exhibitors

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