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Friday, August 6, 2021

CinemaCon 2021 final schedule is set

Film Flam Flummox

Today, the National Association of Theatre Owners announced the final schedule for the 2021 edition of their annual convention, CinemaCon, still set for August 23 through 26 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. While all of the previously announced studios/distributors--Sony Pictures, MGM/United Artists Releasing, Warner Bros., Disney, Universal/Focus Features, Paramount, and Lionsgate--are still slated to participate in some form, in addition to the belatedly announced Neon, the first convention for the global motion picture exhibition industry since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 looks to be a far more scaled down affair than even initially anticipated. Due to concerns with the renewed surge of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, Disney is now filling what had been a traditional presentation slot with an advance screening of the next Marvel Studios entry, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (currently set for a cinemas-only release on September 3). The other studios are, as of this writing, going forward with presentations of previews and advance footage glimpses of upcoming releases, but the slimmer time slots, typically running in the neighborhood of 90 minutes, not to mention the conspicuous absence of host names from the executive suite for a number of them (one notable exception is Paramount's head of domestic distribution, Chris Aronson, who has never passed up an opportunity to be the reigning showman, dating back to his 20th Century Fox days) suggests that most, if not all, of these presentations will be product reels with no in-person celebrity talent appearances--reinforced by Warner Bros., which typically calls their presentation "The Big Picture," noticeably jettisoning the name this time around. Sony Pictures, which has the the Monday evening kick-off position, is slated for a three-hour block, which suggests that perhaps they will be screening a complete film (Venom: Let There Be Carnage, currently set for a late September release, maybe?) along with any standard preview reel.

Elsewhere on the schedule, Monday's session, traditionally devoted to international exhibition, is now a more general interest one, owing to the ongoing difficulties with international travel during the pandemic. But the most dramatic departure from the norm is the absence of a final night awards ceremony. Initially set to be in the vein of a sit-town dinner event as it was when the convention was known as ShoWest as opposed to the glitzy, Colosseum-set show that has been held since the rebranding as CinemaCon in 2011, this move was clearly made due to hesitancy by celebrities to attend in-person. The only officially scheduled talent appearance looks to be by filmmaker Patty Jenkins, who will the headline guest of a Thursday lunchtime industry panel on the current and future state of exhibition. The rest of the four-day agenda, including the traditional trade show booths showcasing concession food items and such, and tech demonstration suites and various other seminars, is of a decidedly back-to-basics, exhibition business focus--as such, being the first NATO conference since the 2011 rebrand to really foreground what this annual event is really supposed to be about.

On that note, this makes me wonder the degree to which this event will be covered in media beyond the showbiz trades. While the event, dating back to the ShoWest days, has always been by conception and designed about the film exhibition business--and, in fact, stoked an interest in me on the ins and outs and various dimensions of that oft-ignored, less "glamorous" side of the film industry since I first started attending and covering in 2001--in-person celebrity appearances have always dominated any media coverage. With this year's event increasingly looking to be nearly star-free, a vastly reduced media presence looks likely. That is, to not mince words, a damn shame, for this will be the most important convention in all of NATO's--and motion picture exhibition, period--history.

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