Cinema exhibitors with excess capacity following the multiplex building boom of the last decade should consider refitting theatres with IMAX screens, a seminar at Cine Expo in Amsterdam has heard.

Two new systems unveiled earlier this year by IMAX Corporation mean it is now feasible for IMAX screens to be "retro-fitted" in existing auditoria via the DMR system, and to play newly IMAX compatible Hollywood event films via the new IMAX MPX.

Millard Ochs, President Warner Bros Int'l Cinemas told the forum, Hollywood Event Films At The IMAX Theatre: "We as cinema owners find we have multiplexes with excess capacity. C'mon guys we all have them out there." "We now have a vehicle to reposition our building," said Ochs. "The MPX, from what I have seen, accomplishes that." The new IMAX DMR system means that the cost of installing an IMAX screen has fallen from $8m-10m in 1994-1995 to $2m-$3.5m now.

The third film in the Matrix trilogy, Warner's Matrix Revolutions will be released in IMAX format on the same day as its usual 35mm release on Nov 5, the first time a Hollywood event movie gets a concurrent release in both formats. Larry O'Reilly, IMAX's senior vice-president of theatre development and distribution, said that cinemagoers are prepared to pay more for the IMAX experience, travelling an average of 35km in the US to reach their nearest screen. For The Matrix Reloaded: The IMAX Experience, 84% of US cinemagoers had already seen it on conventional 35mm, while the US box office rose by 34% when the film went wide in its third week. It is now showing in South Africa, Japan, Singapore and Russia as well as the US.

Ochs, who admits he himself was initially guarded about the notion of DMR releases due to the business model, added: "Things are changing at IMAX. I think we can all be winners here. As more studios see the results of IMAX screenings they will be more supportive." Previous releases have included Fox/Lucasfilm's Star Wars; Episode II: Attack Of The Clones and Universal's Apollo 13.

Moody Greidinger, president and CEO of IT International Theatres, an Israel-based exhibitor that owns IMAX cinemas converted in Krakow and Warsaw, said: "The news about the DMR was the best news for an IMAX operator to hear." However, he pointed out several hurdles still need to be overcome. One is that of mixed programming: the average IMAX feature only lasts 40-45 minutes, compared to the longer running time of a normal feature. The other is that, at present, IMAX exhibitors also have to act as the distributors for the film, shouldering publicity costs among other things.

Richard Creasey, director of BFC Media, which runs the Nescafe IMAX in Moscow, said the key was "content, content, content. We do need that buzz. Day-and-date release is the holy grail." O'Reilly added that releases on the international market also face several challenges. IMAX films traditionally have to be programmed in advance: the vagaries of a Hollywood release schedule, which can chop and change at a month's notice or less would be hard to accommodate. Distributors in non-English-language territories, such as in Japan, also prefer subtitled films to dubbed versions. O'Reilly said that IMAX technology is now being developed to MPX to overcome this problem.

In a separate move, Imax Corp and French exhibitor EuroPalaces have signed an agreement to open an Imax 3D cinema at Disneyland Resort Paris, the 47th Imax cinema in Europe. The facility, which will be located within Disney Village and is set to open in June 2004, is expected to showcase Imax DMR films.

EuroPalaces, one of the largest exhibitors in Europe, was formed by the 2002 merger of Gaumont and Pathe chains. It currently operates the 15-screen Gaumont Disney Village multiplex.

Denis Seguin IN TORONTO also contributed to this report