UK support body the Film Council is proposing to unite the county's art-house cinemas in a so-called virtual circuit, as well as underwrite distributors' p&a costs, under proposals worth $24.3m (£17m) in support for the specialist sector.

The council, which is now consulting the film sector before launching its initiatives in April, is proposing a $1.4m (£1m) fund to support p&a costs and $21.4m (£15m) for specialist exhibition. A further $1.4m (£1m) is targeted at cinema education.

The p&a fund would provide up-front subsidy to distributors, with applicants committing partnership funding. The council, which oversees National Lottery support for film, aims to support 20 specialist films each year through the scheme, which would run alongside a separate initiative for mainstream UK films.

The first of the proposals for exhibition support is to support one or more unified, specialist circuits where a head office would run programming, education and marketing but legal ownership would remain with cinema owners. The $21.4m (£15m) initiative, which would use money inherited from former lottery administrator the Arts Council of England, could be based around or in addition to the regional film theatres that the council currently funds to the tune of $2.8m (£2m) a year.

Alternatively, the council could stick to the existing system for lottery grants for capital projects, issuing a call for applications for support for building new screens.

Another proposal, put forward by the Cinema Exhibitors' Association, envisages channelling off $8.6m (£6m) to provide facilities for people with sensory disabilities. Additionally, a fund worth up to $715,000 (£500,000) will be earmarked for digital initiatives.