Nicolas Whatson has been promoted to the role of general manager at Palace Films, one of Australia's leading arthouse distributors, giving him ultimate responsibility for what is released in both Australia and New Zealand.

Whatson has been part of the acquisition team at Cannes, Toronto and Sundance since 2004, and has been getting increasingly involved in the execution and roll-out of campaigns, but his key role has been as New South Wales head of the company's cinema division.

The upcoming films on the 2009 schedule that he has pushed to acquire include Philippe Claudel's I've Loved You So Long and Olivier Assayas's Summer Hours, both from France, and Tulpan, the debut film from Kazakhstan director Sergey Dvortsevoy.

'I am interested in acquiring wellmade, challenging, entertaining and thought provoking cinema from anywhere in the world that suits people interested in upmarket specialist films,' says Whatson. It is not possible to let personal taste and passion for a film not play a part, he added, but there was nothing wrong with this given the time and effort that goes into distribution.

'Because of my experience in cinemas I like to think I have developed an eye for the market: I feel confident about what will and won't work in our own venues and, what can work out wider from there.'

Whatson said he doesn't have the doom-and-gloom attitude of some regarding specialist cinema. In fact, the box office results in Australia of many releases, including those by other distributors, gives him great confidence about the future.

Examples include The Band's Visit from Madman, Caramel from Hopscotch and, from Palace, the 'very affordable' Hunting and Gathering and the Australian titles Unfinished Sky and the documentary release Forbidden Lie$.

'Palace has made an incredible financial commitment to Australian films and is just as passionate and keen to support them as it has always been,' he said. It has signed for The Secret River, which Fred Schepisi is to direct.