The Australian FilmCommission (AFC), which has been planning a digital cinema network in regional Australia for quite some time, has at last gone public withits plans.

Eight independently-ownedregional cinemas - one in each state and two in New South Wales - will receivedigital equipment on loan and in exchange will be required to screen a range ofAustralian content, old and new, for patrons and schools.

Up to $51,000 (A$65,000) percinema will be spent on installing the 1.47K set-up before February 18 nextyear, so that the cinemas can receive a live satellite feed of the 16 shortfilm finalists from Tropfest, the one-day festival established by filmmakerJohn Polson. The event happens in Sydney and is already shown in all other Australian capitalcities.

Satellite delivery is theeventual aim of the network but most of the content will arrive by courier ondigital files at this stage. In most cases, the AFC will meet the cost ofdigitising these films. The way ticket sale revenue is split will depend on thenature of what is being shown.

Each of the eight cinemasalready had a relationship with the AFC through Big Screen, a travelling filmfestival held since 2001, and they were invited to be part of the regionaldigital screen network. The AFC has begun lobbying the Federal Government for $5.9m(A$7.5m) over three years to work with another 40 cinemas. If successful thesecinemas will have to argue the case to be involved.

The point of the network isto give country people more access to Australian films at the same time astheir city cousins. It may also mean that more specialist films end up beingshown in the bush as, unlike the US studios, the distributors of these films regard thestandard of this equipment as adequate. The equipment may be upgraded infuture, however.