FNE Visegrad YR2022: Q&A with Czech Distributor and Producer Marek Jeníček


    PRAGUE: FNE spoke to Marek Jeníček, managing director of CinemArt, which distributes award-winning films selected from among European productions and international festivals.

    Marek Jeníček

    In 2016, Marek Jenicek was one of the producers of the successful Stuck with a Perfect Woman / Bezva ženská na krku, directed by Tomáš Hoffman and produced by Infinity Prague Production in coproduction with CinemArt. He produced two films through CinemArt, Owners / Vlastníci (2019) and Emergency Situation / Mimorádná událost (2022), both directed by Jiří Havelka.

    Since 2013 Marek has worked for CinemArt, the largest Czech film distributor with 25% market share since 2020. Previously he had collaborated on various Czech films through the Bontonfilm company.

    What is the current state of cinema distribution in the Czech Republic? Are you able to catch up with the losses caused by the closure of cinemas?

    Marek Jeníček: The good news is that all distributors and cinemas survived the pandemic restrictions. As might be expected there have been losses, but thanks to several different forms of support from the government and municipality we could continue in our jobs.

    Admissions were 18 millions in 2019. If compared with 6,9 milions in 2020 and 7,1 millions in 2021, the loss was significant - about 60%. In the first two months of 2022 we are at about 50% of the same period in 2019.

    What was lost during the pandemic and what do you need to get distribution up and running again?

    Marek Jeníček: We will find out what was lost in the upcoming months, when the situation becomes more stable and we can make some comparisons. We lost the feeling that cinema was irreplaceable or the natural choice to watch modern blockbusters. We have all lived without it for several months and the audience had to find new ways of how to watch films. We will be probably losing some admissions, but we are not sure yet what the decline will be in the end.

    Running distribution requires a stable and friendly environment without unclear changes/restrictions. A sufficient number of new interesting titles will convince people that it is worth to leave their apartments and go out to see a new film.

    Are there enough films in the pipeline or too many waiting for a release?

    Marek Jeníček: This year there are still many films to be released and especially there are too many local films waiting for release, it is clear that they cannibalise on each other and they will continue to do so for the next few months. Next year looks emptier in terms of local films, but there is still time to change this.

    Year 2020 was saved by local films, which generated about 46% of the admissions. In 2021 domestic films generated 40% of the admissions and in the first two months of 2022 the share in admissions was about 30%. Many foreign films, mostly of US production, had VOD distribution only, some had simultaneous VOD and theatrical release, which decreased their theatrical potential dramatically. 

    Do you distribute domestic or regional films? How important are they for your programming? What can you tell us about Cinemart's work in the pandemic?

    Marek Jeníček: CinemArt is special in that we release blockbusters from leading studios, but we also select European films which fulfill our foreign lineup with US films quite well. We have been investing in local films, and they play a significant role in our lineup. We can say that we release at least one Czech film per month, sometimes more. I mentioned before the huge share of local production. We have been trying to have films for everyone.

    At the beginning of the pandemic, we tried several new things including online streaming of a local film, that was quite successful for several days but than pirated copies were widely available and only few were willing to pay for it. We worked with our catalogue of films available on VOD. I am happy that we were not forced to fire anyone from our team.

    Now that audiences have gotten used to the changes that occurred, what difficulties and challenges does the Czech film industry face today?

    Marek Jeníček: I believe that people will find their way back to the cinemas, but probably not in as high a number as in the record year of 2019. If we stay behind by 10-15%, it will be great. In August and October 2021 the numbers were like before the pandemic, thanks to the mix of restriction – free period and the combination of strong foreign and local films. Of course people will think twice what is worth watching in cinemas and what they can watch at home.

    Piracy is at the top of the list, without theatrical release it is quite hard to produce a commercial film, because the revenue from home entertainment is still very low due to piracy. The positive thing is that the number of people who are willing to pay for the content online has been growing, but it is still quite low when compared to illegal use. Piracy is not being taken seriously, neither by the police nor by the judicial system, and also politically it is an untouchable problem.

    The shortening window between theatrical and VOD release can have a negative impact. I think that many people will be kind of confused when some titles have a 45 days window, some a 75 days window. Significant exhibitors will put bigger pressure on conditions with the distributors.

    What have you learned from the pandemic? How do you see the development of the industry?

    Marek Jeníček: We must be more flexible, look for new opportunities, promote the content to find its admissions. I believe that the cinema will still play a significant role in entertainment as a „going out for having fun“ moment, but of course the shift in favour of home entertainment is significant. Global protection of content, especially online security will be crucial.

    The 2022 Year of Recovery for Film in Visegrad Countries (YR2021) project sponsored by the Visegrad Fund brings together filmmakers and cultural professionals across the V4 to cooperate in the recovery of the film industry, which has been badly damaged by the COVID pandemic, and to reconnect with cinema audiences across the region and across borders. We want to share the lessons learned about reaching audiences online and the advantages of hybrid events in creating new connections across the Visegrad region.