Foreign films that arestruggling to find a theatrical footing in the US may soon be able to accessthe American marketplace via a budding new exhibition circuit that is thebrainchild of a New York digital film studio.

Manhattan's EmergingPictures is targeting international producers and film exporters as potentialsuppliers to an alternative chain of theatres that it is being created bystringing together cultural institutions, performingarts centres and other community complexes that already show films to theirlocal memberships on a periodic basis.

The company, operating underits Emerging Cinemas exhibition banner, is offering to provide suchestablishments with free state-of-the-art digital projection equipment plus acommitment to programme their theatres with satellite-fed first-run features aswell as alternative programming such as concerts, nature documentaries,high-end corporate videoconferences and sporting events. In return, the boxoffice revenue will then split between the respective venues and EmergingCinemas.

Ira Deutchman,the former Fine Line Features founder who jointly spearheads Emerging Picturesalong with HDTV programming pioneer Barry Rebo and consumer electronics whizGiovanni Cozzi, likens this would-be circuit to the networks of affiliatedlocal TV stations that are thedistribution backbone of the big broadcasters in the US.

Deutchman says his companyhas identified as many as five thousand potential venues that fit the bill,namely thriving cultural or community-based institutions that haveunderutilized screening auditoria, many of them a throwback to their previouslives as old-style movie palaces.

Emerging's stated aimis to corral 300 such venues within three years, starting with its firstcommercial site in the New Jersey city of New Brunswick, transforming them all frominstitutions that relied on old scratched-out movie prints for their film shows into cutting-edgehigh-definition digital theatres showcasing pristine versions of the latest worksin the indie circuit. Because of its relationships with manufacturers, Emerging reckons it can procure and install the necessary digital projection systems cost-efficiently enough to be able break even after 40 theatres have signed up.

The fact that thesealternative theatrical venues already reach out to an established localconstituency of arts enthusiasts and communal supporters also allows Emergingto tap into existing membership mailing-lists as well as local sponsors in orderto drum up audience awareness and marketing reinforcement.

So far, three specialiseddomestic distributors - Miramax, Sony Pictures Classics and UnitedArtists - have all expressed interest in supplying theatrical films to this nascentcircuit that essentially enlarges their potential distribution reach without cannibalising their existing theatrical outlets. But, in addition,Deutchman also wants to reach out to both film festivals and overseas supplierssuch as Unifrance, the French film export promotion body, which might beinterested in curating their own film programmes across the US.