New Zealand's dominant arthouse player, Rialto, isplanning to establish distribution operations in the US and the UK, as well assetting up a cinema chain in Australia, where it has been distributing filmsfor nearly three years.

The ambitious global expansion, to be funded through cashreserves, is unprecedented for a specialist distributor from either New Zealandor Australia.

"Rialto stands for arthouse films and we want to beseen as a leading entity in the world," says chief executive Kelly Rogers,who owns Rialto Entertainment with David Ross. "We will establishourselves in the US first, then in the UK."

He expects to announce Rialto's first acquisitioninvolving these new territories, within the next six months, and is workingtowards setting up the appropriate infrastructure in time to start releasingfilms theatrically in the US by mid-2005. He has not yet decided whether tobase the offshoot in New York or Los Angeles.

"Ever since I was 18 years of age I have wanted tofind financial and creative opportunities that would transcend barriers andoperate on the international stage."

Rialto is also planning to elbow into the Australianarthouse exhibition market and has begun discussions with potential partners.Rogers says the plan is to have 75 screens in Australia and New Zealand by theend of 2009, up from the current 20, all of which are in New Zealand and areco-owned by Village Skycity.

Rogers believes discerning audiences for foreign languageand specialist films are growing. Rialto's taste tends towards films with aEuropean sensibility, he added.