Aussie 2012 B.O. Up But Below 2010 Record
Australian cinemas raked in $A1.125 billion ($1.188 billion) in 2012, up 2.8% on the previous year but a fraction below the industry 2010 record of $1.128 billion, the year of Avatar, according to the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia. The Aussie films’ B.O. share was 4.3%, slightly above the 10-year average of 3.8%. The MPDAA’s stats do not quantify ticket sales but Deadline estimates the admissions total was 85.8 million in 2012, based on an average ticket price of $13.10, compared with 85 million in 2011 and 92 million in 2010. The transition from 35mm film projection to digital continued apace an estimated 72% of the country’s 1,995 screens are now digital, including all major circuits; of those, 57% are 3D capable. The year’s top-grosser was The Avengers with $53.2 million; the best result for an Aussie film was The Sapphires with $14.4 million.Don Groves
Russell Crowe to Do Double Duty Hosting Australia’s AACTA Awards
Russell Crowe will host the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts’ International Awards in LA on Saturday- then jump on a plane to Sydney to host the Academy’s Australian awards on Wednesday night. In the latter role the actor is a late replacement for Hugh Sheridan, who pulled out due to a scheduling conflict. Sheridan, however, will attend the awards in LA. The host switch is good news for Network Ten, which will telecast Wednesday’s awards, where the presenters will include Geoffrey Rush (AACTA President) and Cate Blanchett. This is the second annual AACTA awards, which superseded the Australian Film Institute Awards. Crowe hosted the AFI Awards in 2005 and was a presenter at the inaugural AACTA International Awards in L.A last year. – Don Groves

Generational Change At Australia’s Palace Cinemas
Antonio Zeccola is formally handing day-to-control of Palace Cinemas, the company he founded 50 years ago, to his son Benjamin, who becomes chief executive officer. Palace operates more than 100 screens in 23 locations and as a distributor specializes in handling European art house films. Antonio will continue as executive chairman, focusing on new developments and remaining involved in the numerous film fests hosted by Palace Cinemas. Benjamin served previously as executive director of Palace Cinemas. Antonio said: “Benjamin has been increasingly running the business on a day-to-day basis over recent years and it is appropriate for me to now formalize that role. I now have more time to focus on adding new cinemas and screens and growing Palace Cinemas and Palace Films.” The distrib’s upcoming release slate includes The Loneliest Planet, Caesar Must Die, Tabu, Stories We Tell and Against the Wind.- Don Groves.

BFI Outlines New Distribution Fund
Following the British Film Institute’s October launch of its Film Forever plan, the organization has outlined its overhauled £4M-a-year Distribution Fund offered to support the UK release of feature films. Projects will be classified into one of four strands with the largest awards between £250-300K being offered to “Big Audience” films. The fund replaces the old P&A Fund, a much-criticized remnant of the shuttered UK Film Council’s handling of the cash. Like much of the Film Forever plan, the BFI’s new approach to the fund echoes Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments that producers should favor “commercially successful pictures”. It also favors digital technologies and support for films outside the capital. A “Breakout” strand offers awards of around £100-150K for “critically acclaimed films with audience appeal and strong marketable elements” in the hope of helping them reach non-London audiences. Awards are also on offer for films using “New Models” of distribution and multi-platform releasing as well as fast track cash injections of £20-40K for “Sleepers” – films with encouraging opening box office numbers. – Joe Utichi

Manchester United Acquires BSkyB Stake In TV Channel
Manchester United Football has bought the remaining BSkyB stake in its digital MUTV television channel as part of the soccer club’s “long-term digital media plans” it announced today. BSkyB owned a one-third minority stake in the channel, broadcast as a subscription add-on to Sky’s satellite service, which now becomes a wholly-owned subsidiary of the club. The channel was launched as a joint venture between Manchester United, ITV and BSkyB in 1998, with the club purchasing ITV’s stake in November 2007. Manchester United will continue to operate the channel independently having developed “considerable in-house expertise” it said. – Joe Utichi

Venice Biennale College Selects Candidates For 2nd Phase
Three projects will move to the second stage of the Venice Film Festival’s Biennale College – Cinema with 150K euros in funding to support their mini-budget film projects. Chosen from among 15 previously selected projects, the three advancing are Memphis, from U.S. director-producer team Tim Sutton and John Baker; Thailand’s The Year Of June from director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit and producer Aditya Assarat and Italy’s Yuri Esposito from director Alessio Fava and producer Max Chicco. The goal is to present the three features at next year’s 70th Venice Film Festival. The second workshop of the Biennale College will be held from February 18-March 6 in Venice and will focus on direction and pre-production. Each team will work with a mentor-director and tutors/trainers with the aim to shoot and edit over the next five months.