FNE at Europa Cinemas 2015 Conference: Focus on Increasing Audiences in the Post-digitalisation Era

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PRAGUE: The focus was squarely on increasing audiences for European films at the 19th Europa Cinemas Network Conference in Prague 27-29 November 2015.

As Europa Cinemas president Nico Simon summed up, “For ten years we lost a lot of time over the process of the digitalisation of cinemas – just replacing one piece of machinery with another.” With the digitalisation of cinemas more or less completed the emphasis was on attracting audiences back into cinemas and the role of innovation.

Cinema operators shared innovative events and programmes that were brining audiences into cinemas. Cinemas in Slovenia and Poland offered examples of student-led demand for their own cinema events. At Kinodvor in Ljubljana, the children’s audience that the cinema has cultivated for the past seven years is now an audience of teens who “are starting to ask for a new brand for them,” director Nina Pece Grilc said. Maria Magdalena Gierat, director of Krakow’s Kino pod Baranami told FNE that the success of their late night university student led screening and discussion programmes resulted in teen asking for their own Saturday morning films with discussions. “They do it all themselves,” Geirat said.

Central and Eastern Europe lost much of its arthouse and single screen cinemas during the process of digitalisation. Romanian director Cristian Mungiu addressed the conference via SKYPE saying said the situation in Romania had become even worse for art house and independent cinema operators, following last week’s law which shut down the last small cinemas in Bucharest, due to safety concerns over aging public spaces. Romania in fact has the lowest density of screens in Europe, with just 13 screens per one million inhabitants. Every territory but one in the western part of Europe, by contrast, has a density of 50 or more screens, and in the case of Ireland, it’s over 100, according to 2014 figures compiled by the International Union of Cinemas. Only three territories in CEE have a density of 50 or more screens.

The dearth of cinemas in CEE has created a regional hybrid fusing festival directors, cinemas operators and distributors. Mirsad Purivata of Kino Meeting Point in Sarajevo, who was honoured as Best Entrepreneur, said, “We are forced to be distributors.” Filling a vacuum, entrepreneurs in CEE territories are exploring creative ways to improve the entire process of getting films to their audiences, including day-and-date releases, partnering with VoD companies, or bringing caravan cinemas to audiences in small towns and villages.

Christo Dermendzhiev is the CEO of Bulgarian distribution company A Plus Films Co, which works with four cinemas in Bulgaria’s smaller cities including Lucky Home Cinema. He said, “Some cinemas, instead of being improved by the Europa Cinemas subsidy programme, are using it to survive. It’s putting them on life support.” His solution to the problem of distributing European films in cinemas was to provide “operational help in terms of distribution, to create an environment to help distributors. If something is not interesting financially to distributors, why should they do it? Europa Cinemas could be more active cooperation with distribution.”

Across CEE, networks of cinema operators are in their infancy. “There’s a big lack of national cinema exhibitors organisations in Central and Eastern Europe,” Jan Runge, CEO of the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC, www.unic-cinemas.org), told FNE. “Cinemas should be part of the dialogue when we talk about the film industry.”

One CEE country that has developed a new network of independent cinemas is Croatia. Hrvoje Laurenta of Zagreb’s Kino Mreza (kinomreza.hr) told FNE that since it launched in November 2014, the network has increased from 27 members to 32 cinemas with 37 screens. Their initiative seeks to build attendance for national films by bringing film casts and crews to screenings in cinemas around the country.