FNE at KVIFF 2019: Pro-DIGI Leads the Charge to Transform Czech Cinemas


    KARLOVY VARY: Pro-DIGI, z.s., a Czech company that was in the vanguard of digitalisation, is taking its goal of transforming the Czech cinema-going experience to the next stage by engaging directly with exhibitors. FNE met with Pro-DIGI founder Petr Vitek during the Industry Days at the Karlovy Vary IFF, which ran through 6 July 2019.

    “We started Pro-DIGI in 2008, because people didn’t realise digitalisation would happen so fast,” Vitek told FNE. The company brought together the state sector, through the Ministry of Culture, and the private sector, working with distributors and cinemas, and began collecting data. Realising that there was a need for financial help to facilitate the change from analog to digital, funding was found through the Czech Film Fund. Since the first call in 2009, there have been ten funding calls in all, with 12 m CZK per year currently designated as digitalisation aid for small cinemas.

    “It’s a special market, because so many cinemas are in small towns,” Vitek said, adding that some 282 cinemas have been digitalised (232 classic cinemas, 32 multiples and 18 summer cinemas), with 519 sites in the Czech Republic that have the capability of showing films. At the same time, Vitek said, “Equipment is getting cheaper, so some cinemas are looking at re-opening,” which adds two or three new exhibition sites each year. “Sometimes it goes together with the total re-construction of a building.” Because of this new shift, Vitek said, “We are thinking of changing the priorities, and negotiating to focus on upgrading, as well as the e-cinemas system, which is most important for alternative films.”

    Vitek has expanded his efforts to include a second project, Nové kino (New Cinema), which focuses on educating exhibitors to the new realities.

    “They are still using old dramaturgy,” Vitek said, by programming films for extended blocks of time. “We show them statistics to prove that a mixed programme of blockbusters and arthouse films can be profitable.” Distributors used to have control over a cinema’s programme, he said. “We are teaching exhibitors to be more flexible and have more of a mix,” in effect creating more of a repertoire of cinema programming.

    The process of educating exhibitors has three parts: large scale lectures; presentations to small groups in different regions of the Czech Republic; and bringing exhibitors to film festivals. In the course of the meetings, it was discovered that only around 10-15% of exhibitors ever attended film festivals. Vitek and his group identified three large national festivals that have specific profiles and offer an industry programme: the animation festival Anifilm, the children’s festival Zlin Film Festival and the documentary festival Ji.hlava. Ten exhibitors are invited to the festivals for 3-5 working days, with funding for their attendance coming from the Czech Film Fund. The programme began in 2018 and is now in its second year.

    As Pro-DIGI continues its efforts to collect statistics and change the landscape of film exhibition, FNE will partner with Pro-DIGI to make its findings available to our readers