This month we spoke with Marijana Bosnjak, CEO and Head of Board of Kino Urania from the town of Osijek, in the Eastern part of Croatia. Cinema Urania/Kino Urania was a part of a company established in 1901, which had six single screens cinemas during 1910 and 1991.
Today the company holds two buildings, Urania Cinema (build in 1912 with its first screening on 19 September 1912) and Cinema Europa (built in 1939).
Due to the crisis, the competition and the lack of administrative support from the local authorities, Cinema Europa was closed in 2011. Cinema Urania was partially closed too, keeping in touch with the audience by organising school screenings and customised programmes. They both re-emerged on 17 October 2013. Cinema Urania is a member of Europa Cinemas from 2006.
FNE: What is the biggest challenge of running a cinema such as yours?
Marijana Bosnjak : Kino Urania was built in 1912. It has a great cultural and historical significance for the city of Osijek. As a private company with over 100 years of tradition, our general mission is to ensure innovative, diverse film programming in an area where there are few alternatives, mostly oriented to mainstream productions.
At the same time as a single screen private cinema we are faced with huge administration barriers, lack of financial and programming support at all levels and lack of films needed to ensure diversity of the programme, especially through regular distribution channels. A combination of all these elements caused a temporary closure in the end of 2011, but we didn't lose the vision.
In the next two years we looked for new models and new strategies and we re-opened the cinema in 2013.
Our monthly expenses are too high, and at the moment it's not possible to cover the costs out of our total income. This situation is forcing us to constantly come up with new ideas in order to keep the cinema going. That has resulted in less focus on our primary function, i.e. project development, and more focus on our audience.
The problem goes much deeper. It’s almost impossible to establish cooperation between the different institutions within Croatia, as there isn't any network between them. This hinders education in schools for a better comprehension of film culture and its meanings, its importance and everything implied by cinema. All these slow down the cultural development of our society.
FNE: What kinds of films do you prefer to screen and why?
M.B.: The concept of audience development was redefined in the past two years, and it is related to the applicable aspects of marketing and education from keeping the existing audience by providing valuable programmes in order to develop knowledge and better understanding of film, thus making the audience come more often, and to spread the news among people who haven’t been there before.
We provided film diversity for over 100 years in a traditional yet cool place to go, emphasising the importance of preservation and film education, thus creating “made to measure” creative programmes which put a spotlight on national and international filmmakers, and also on social subjects with a close and friendly relationship to our audience.
Our main programme policy is to show a large variety of different films from different countries and with different cultural backgrounds. We strive to create a place where audiences can identify themselves.
FNE: The cinema is home to many festivals, events and film weeks. Why are these important and what do they achieve?
M.B.: There are new generations with new needs and new expectations. They are more informed with tons of opportunities offered to satisfy their needs; they find it in the new media, the new technology and the new distribution channels which allow them direct access (legal or illegal) to all possible contents. This confronts us with lots of challenges in order to attract the audience, especially young filmgoers, to our venue. The only way to get to the audience and make them loyal is to meet their needs and to give them more then they expect. Most of our programmes are customised programmes on different target groups.
We are in a constant search for creative expressions, critical thinking and social engagement. This is a part of our mission and our main goal too.
We let them create it together with us, and as long as we can answer and control all media and other channels we give them the whole product they can’t buy or cannot get anywhere else. And, as with every good brand, we are not allowing them to lose themselves among too many choices; we offer them choices appropriate for the programme that we run at the time. Together with the audience we set the standards and we won’t go any lower.
FNE: What is role of Europa Cinemas for cinemas such as your cinema and why is it important?
M.B.: Europa Cinemas as an organisation and a whole team of professionals is the most important partner to us. First of all the whole network is a great platform which enables us to share different experiences, find new access, new techniques and new models according to all target groups and marketing strategies. It’s a great challenge and a great opportunity to be a part of such a strong and powerful network.
While we passed through the hardest period in our history Europa Cinemas was the only group we had on our side, giving us all possible and available support to continue our fight for our cinemas. It has a very important role in our new life cycle.
FNE: How does a cinema like your serve the local community?
M.B.: We have a partnership with other organisations, NGO’s, schools, local authorities, embassies, etc., as a part of our own projects and also as a part of the outreach work we do in order to support all the local activities connected directly or indirectly with the creative industries. We do many projects with children, minorities, disabled and retired groups, we support all humanitarian activities for different groups of people in need, asylums for dogs and other pets and we organise different events in order to support talented kids in sports, dance, theatre, etc. We participate in all the projects helping to create a better and more positive society.
FNE: Can you say something about your work with young audiences?
M.B.: In our program policy we cooperate with schools and institutions, teachers, professors and students, NGO's and institutes at all levels in order to provide a film education as a positive, rewarding and vital element of ensuring independent film culture for younger audiences and further interest in film for audiences of all ages.
Thematic programming, value added programmes (pop-rock concerts, festivals, tourism routes, cooking, etc.) and projects we create, all aim to establish a dialogue with an audience by placing specific films in the context of other titles or different art features dealing with similar ideas but in different and more modern ways which are of equal importance or enjoyment which a casual filmgoer is simply not aware of.
We want to make our audience feel useful, needed, and good enough to be a part of our content. We’ve noticed that our audience is responding to that. Some of the important programmes we had through the past seven years are:
• CoolTour (Culture tour): different cinematography in combination with other cultural programs (theatres, concerts, food, language workshops, performances, etc) in cooperation with embassies opened in Croatia, Cultural institutes and NGO’s. The goal is the diversity of the programme, tolerance, multicultural view, cultural exchange between countries, etc.
• Back to School: regular distribution film screenings, or films on demand of users outside of the regular cinema schedule, plus creative workshops, panel discussions, quizzes, games, etc. For the first time we started to use films in order to open a social dialogue on some specific social problems (FilmItLouD, http://filmfestivaldorf.com/filmitloud/, Sichtwechsel, The Geek Gathering, Frame festival…)
• Classics to remember: a special, in or outside of the regular screening schedule programme, to show films through the film history and film diversity, directors cuts (cycles). The programme is related to our Modern Silence Film Festival (www.cekate.hr) whose goal is to encourage young filmgoers to create new media, by combing original silent films with new age or other types of music.
• Business Academy: films showing the power of entrepreneurial skills and power of competencies. We started some programmes together with University of Economics (department of Marketing, Entrepreneurial Science, and Management), Cultural Management and Academy for Art and Craft. The regulation of screening rights/titles of films available for screening is a problem in order to grow in importance.
The list of the other YA programs: Cinema B-day: Every day is a B-day; DocuArt; Media Culture; Parlez Vous Français?- Francophony; Holocaust to Remember; winter break film screenings, etc.
FNE: What about the digitalisation of cinemas? How will it affect your work and your cinema?
M.B.: Digitalisation had an important role in the new strategy and the implementation of new business models. It helped in creating culturally richer content provided with new contents (workshops, panels, concerts, performances, new media) allowing us greater flexibility in providing alternative entertainment content in order to create more custom designed projects and programmes.