WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is conducting an antitrust investigation of the movie theater industry, industry officials say.
The department, which launched the investigation last year, has requested information from at least two companies that own a large number of theaters: General Cinema Corp. of Chestnut Hill, Mass., and United Artists Theatre Circuit Inc. of Englewood, Colo.
Bernard Hollander, a senior trial attorney in the Justice Department's antitrust division, wouldn't acknowledge, however, that an investigation was underway.
United Artists, the largest film exhibitor in the country with 2,378 screens at about 445 locations, has received Justice Department demands for information "with respect to the acquisition or sale of ownership or control and the operation of certain motion picture theaters," according to a registration statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Demands for information were sent to United Artists and some of its employees in August, 1991, and April, 1992, the company said in the SEC filing. Doug Wolkin, a company spokesman, declined further comment.
General Cinema, which has 1,405 screens at 271 locations, also received information requests from Justice, said Kathi Hartman, the company's general counsel. She said she didn't know if the agency had identified specific problems or was simply gathering information.
"We are still a bit in the dark as to where they are going with this investigation, because it's unclear what is wrong with exhibitors buying and selling theaters to each other," Hartman said.
Hartman said the Justice Department in the past has issued consent decrees to companies involved in motion picture distribution.