The Cinema Exhibitors Association is launching a funding group that will help small to medium-sized operators convert to digital technology. The CEA is now seeking someone to lead the launch of the group.

The plan follows an “expression of interest” exercise, announced in March, which found that more than 450 screens are interested in being part of the group.

Phil Clapp, chief executive of the CEA, said that the research combined with the feedback from a recent series of digital roadshow events, held jointly with the UK Film Council, confirmed there is an “absolute desire” from UK cinema operators to embrace digital technology.

He added: “But many recognise that they are extremely unlikely to be able to secure funding deals to convert on their own. We strongly believe that the proposed funding group may be the only option to achieve this for a significant majority of small to medium-sized cinema operators.”

The CEA is now beginning the process of recruiting someone to establish the group and seek potential funding.

With digital transition already underway, Clapp says that it “seems inevitable” that 35mm prints will become increasingly difficult and expensive to source, particularly after the country’s major cinema chains, have converted.

Peter Buckingham, head of distribution and exhibition at the UKFC, said: “Securing film’s successful transition to digital is the UKFC’s top strategic priority for the years ahead – it is vital if we are to meet the needs of film-makers and the demands of audiences. As far as possible no existing 35mm cinema should be left behind.”

Further details of the group, which Clapp warns may not be able to fund the transition of every cinema, will be announced shortly.