US exhibitor Reading Cinemas is to open a local version of its Angelica Film Center in New Zealand's capital Wellington.

The Angelika Film Center is an iconic six screen arthouse multiplex in downtown New York.

The news comes as Reading's Australian and New Zealand subsidiary prepares to open a new cinema complex in Christchurch and starts construction on further screens in Auckland.

The new Angelika Film Centre in Wellington will exclusively showcase art and foreign films and be built adjacent to Reading's existing 10-screen cinema complex in Courtenay Central. It will have at least five screens and include retail facilities.

"It will provide film aficionados with access to a much broader range of film than has historically been available in Wellington, and will provide that access in a world-class film viewing environment," said Neil Pentecost, chief executive of Reading for New Zealand and Australia. "Through its Angelika theatres in the US, Reading has specialised in art film exhibition for many years, providing unparalleled film experiences."

Pentecost said the move is also good news for mainstream movie audiences because it will free up Courtenay Central by removing specialist fare. He is grateful to local distributors for their support for the plan, he added.

Pentecost told he believes Reading has captured about 75% of the greater Wellington market since opening cinemas there in March 2002, and as many as 90% of cinemagoers in the central business district. Hoyts has shut down screens since Reading arrived.

Once a new eight-screen cinema in Christchurch opens its doors on September 9, Reading will have 31 screens in New Zealand. The 13 in Auckland are a joint venture with Everard Entertainment, owned by New Zealand Film Commission chair Barrie Everard, and this partnership is about to start construction of a further eight in Auckland's eastern suburbs.

"I believe there may be opportunities for an Angelika-style theatre in Australia. I don't currently have a particular site in mind but we are looking," said Pentecost, who would like to see arthouse move beyond the "black jeans and black T-shirt set".

He added that there are many potential customers that don't necessarily feel comfortable with the venues currently on offer.