Indie film exhibitors the Denver Film Society, Cinema Detroit and Washington DC-based West End Cinema and the Avalon Theatre have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia claiming the specialty film circuit owned by Mark Cuban has violated federal antitrust law by denying them access to specialty films they wanted to exhibit.
The suit (read it here) claims Landmark’s business practice of “clearing” films is harming marketplace competition, and seeks a jury trial, monetary damages and an injunction prohibiting Landmark from continuing the practice. The defendants are Landmark (aka Silver Cinemas Acquisition Co.) and Cuban-owned 2929 Entertainment.
“Landmark’s dominance is demonstrated by its ability to define the terms of clearances, including which titles to clear, the duration of the clearances, and which theaters to clear,” the suit states. “In particular, Landmark has leveraged its national circuit power to bully distributors into clearing against each Plaintiff every Specialty Film Landmark wishes to clear, even though individual market conditions do not justify such clearances. Thus, distributors lose their ability to decide how widely to have a Specialty Film shown based on their economic interest and market conditions.”
“Clearing” has long been a bone of contention in the exhibition biz, with some arguing it is a predatory film booking practice whereby multiplex chains strong-arm studios for product in a specific market. If a studio decides to book with the competition in a given community, usually a mom-and-pop venue like the Plaintiffs, the exhibitor will threaten to bar that film (or future films) from playing the entire chain.
“We did not reach this decision lightly,” said Denver Film Society executive director Andrew Rodgers. “After years of trying to work within the system and talking with partners and peers about how we can overcome the unfair competition we face from Landmark, we have come to the painful conclusion that this is a nationwide problem that affects the entire independent film community. The deck is stacked against community theaters like ours, and the only way we can solve the problem we all face and serve our audiences properly, is to seek a remedy through the courts.”
Landmark, which operates 54 theaters and 260 screens in 27 markets including in Denver, Detroit, and D.C., declined comment. In January 2016, it filed a similar anitcompetitive lawsuit against major chain Regal Entertainment.
Also last year, upscale theater chain iPics sued in Texas court over conspiracy claims that the major exhibition chains were working together to kill new competition in certain markets.
The plaintiffs in the Landmark case are repped by Hausfeld.