The Denver Film Society joined a legal complaint Wednesday against the owner of the Chez Artiste, Esquire and Mayan theaters, claiming the company is competing unfairly to squash local movie competition.
DFS along with Cinema Detroit, West End Cinema and the Avalon Theatre, both of Washington, D.C., accuse Landmark Theatres of using its “market dominance” to limit where specialty films like “Moonlight” can be shown. The independent theaters hope a district court judge will side with them and ding Landmark for “unlawful anticompetitive” practices, according to the complaint.
Landmark Theatres did not immediately respond to an inquiry from Denverite about the antitrust suit. The Los Angeles-based theater company owns movie houses in about a dozen states and Washington, D.C., according to its website.
The executive director of the Denver Film Society, Andrew Rodgers, said the organization joined the suit to make sure moviegoers in the Mile High City have choices when they buy tickets for niche, artsy movies.
“The fact that we’re at this point is telling and also shows the seriousness of what’s going on here,” Rodgers told Denverite.
Since opening the Sie Film Center in 2010, DFS said it has not been able to book a single film that Landmark was showing in the city.
“We want to grow and obviously we want money to do that, but we want people to have a choice and say, ‘Do we want to go see this movie and support an organization like the Denver Film Society or do we want to go support this company over here?’” Rodgers said.
“We’re not trying to say that Landmark shouldn’t have the chance to show their movies. We think that they should. We would just like to be on equal footing and have the same opportunities. We think we have a really great theater and a lot of people if given the choice, will choose to see their movies with us and not with them. But we think there’s enough to share. A rising tide floats all boats and the more interest and excitement we can build around these films, the better it is for all of us.”
The nearly 40-year-old Denver Film Society owns The Anna & John J. Sie Film Center along East Colfax Avenue. The nonprofit organization shows hundreds of movies each year at the center and organizes the Denver Film Festival and the Film on the Rocks events at the Red Rocks Park & Amphitheater.
The Denver Film Society is not competing for audiences looking to see the latest blockbuster. Its patrons tend to be looking for artsy, foreign, independent or niche specialty films more in the vein of what’s offered at Mayan Theatre in Speer, Esquire Theatre in Country Club and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in West Colfax.
“In addition to connecting their communities with the art of cinema, these independent theaters are an important, and often essential, source of competition in the applicable markets for viewing specialty films — providing more choices of locations and content for viewers and competing in the price of ticket sales,” the complaint states.
To show a film, DFS and others have to get a license from the movie’s distributor. The distributor is a middleman of sorts between the production studio and theater. The suit filed Monday claims that Landmark makes distributors agree to “clearing” — not giving licenses to its market competitors, blocking independent theaters from screening films their customers want to see.
As the “admittedly dominant theater chain, or ‘circuit’ that specializes in exhibiting specialty films in the United States” it would hard for a distributor to pass on Landmark. And the theater is taking advantage of this dominance, the plaintiffs claim, by coercing film distributors into clearing agreements.
In 2016, Landmark took an antitrust suit against Regal Entertainment Group, the owner of the theaters at the Denver Pavilions and Colorado Center in Denver.
“Landmark went to court to fight against clearances for the films it wanted to show,” said Bill Oberdorfer, executive director of the Avalon Theatre, in a statement. “We are doing the exact same thing and simply asking for the same opportunities with respect to specialty films.”
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