FNE Visegrad YR2021: Q&A with Frédéric Berardi, Head of The Board of Kino Świat and CFO at CANAL+ Polska


    WARSAW: Frédéric Berardi, Head of The Board of Kino Świat, the leading Polish distributor, and CFO at CANAL+ Polska, talks to FNE about the Polish cinema industry recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Frédéric BerardiFNE: What are the conditions within the Polish cinema distribution market after the first two quarters of 2021? 

    Frédéric Berardi: “The cinema is slowly rebuilding its position, which had been severely damaged by the pandemic, resulting in limitations. The performance during the first two quarters of this year was very slow again, as cinemas in Poland were closed until mid-May. Nevertheless, the holiday season, which is now over, allows us to look forward to the coming months with greater optimism. The total number of cinema viewers in this period has accounted for almost 70% of the total number of viewers in the same period before the pandemic. This is a good result, given that there were fewer Polish films on offer - and these are usually the most attractive to a great part of our viewers - and since going back to the cinema is obviously not the first choice during summer after a period of lockdown. We believe that such a ‘permanent’ return will certainly take place when the most attractive productions are available on the big screen. This was the case with, for example, 25 years of innocence. The case of Tomek Komenda / 25 lat niewinności. Sprawa Tomka Komendy, which, despite its premiere in pandemic circumstances, attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers. Let us hope that such a lockdown scenario will not happen again, because the autumn seems very promising when it comes to new releases. The cinemas will show Leave No Traces / Żeby nie było śladów, the absolutely shocking and tragic story of Grzegorz Przemyk, distributed by us and coproduced by CANAL+. The premiere of The Wedding / Wesele by Wojciech Smarzowski, adored by Polish viewers, is also ahead of us. In addition, viewers will see several sequels of stories that they already know. There is an interesting observation here - family cinema and stories already ‘tested’ by viewers attract a far larger audience than before the pandemic. What is missing is the so-called ‘universal cinema’. Let’s go back to the predictions, though. We assume that the market will not fully recover until the second half of the next year.

    FNE: How did Kino Świat operate during 2020 and 2021 lockdowns; what was your strategy in this unstable situation? What are your financial results for 2020 and the first two quarters of 2021; what are your forecasts until the end of the year?

    Frédéric Berardi: “Financially Kino Świat was obviously very much negatively impacted in 2020 and in 2021 by the lockdown, as the greatest part of our revenues usually come from theatrical distribution. It cannot be said, however, that during the hard lockdown we sat with our arms folded and waited for events to develop. Fortunately, we distribute not only to cinemas, but also to other partners, such as VOD, including to Netflix, Amazon and, of course, the CANAL + Group, of which we are part. During that time the Kino Swiat and the Canal+ Poland teams demonstrated great resilience and commitment to protect our activities. Indeed, during that time we pursued our film development projects and made new investments, in order to be ready for a better future and to keep on providing great entertainment to all our viewers in the cinemas and, at a later stage, in front of their TVs or through our streaming offers.

    FNE: Has Kino Świat benefited from any form of public funding/support for distributors (crisis shield etc.)?

    Frédéric Berardi: “Yes, we benefited from some assistance, including the support that the Polish Film Institute offered to distributors and producers.”

    FNE: Kino Świat is the leading distributor in Poland - what is the secret of your success?

    Frédéric Berardi: “Kino Świat has been operating in this market for many years and it enjoys great trust among producers. There are at least several reasons for that, but the foundation of our success, the foundation of the company, are its people and their unique know-how. For this reason, we produce many things ‘in-house’, because we know how to do it. We always approach each project individually and we allocate funds for the marketing of each project, which is not a market standard. Our portfolio also includes a very large number of hits, which often premiere at a similar time. For this reason, we make sure that they do not compete with one another. Producers appreciate it. Our cooperation with CANAL+ also plays a significant role here: thanks to this, we are able to provide comprehensive financing, not only in the area of distribution, but also in the field of film production.”

    FNE: What is your prognosis for the state of the market till the end of 2021? What can we expect?

    Frédéric Berardi: “September, October and November are always a harvest season for cinemas, and when you look at the list of upcoming premieres, you can see that viewers will have many reasons to return to the cinemas. It all depends, of course, on the coronavirus situation. However, we are optimistic about the future.”

    FNE: How many titles did you introduce in 2020 and 2021; how many of them are Polish productions; what were the greatest attendance successes?

    Frédéric Berardi: “In 2020, Kino Świat introduced 17 films to cinemas, 8 of which were Polish productions. Dogs 3. In the Name of Principles / Psy 3. W imię zasad, with almost 1.2 million admissions, was an absolute hit. Mayday (980,000 admissions) and 25 years of innocence (721,000 admissions) ranked next, and if it were not for another lockdown, these titles would definitely have exceeded the one million viewer threshold. The plans for 2021 account for the premieres of 36 films at the moment, half of which are Polish films. As I mentioned earlier, family productions have been the most successful this year - so far, almost 310,000 viewers saw War with Grandpa / Wojna z dziadkiem, and Lassie, come back! / Lassie, wróć! had 204,000 viewers. Both productions are still available in cinemas, so the total audience will be much larger.

    FNE: Every year the top of the Polish box office is taken by a Polish title - why is that?

    Frédéric Berardi: “Polish viewers simply love Polish productions. We like watching our native actors; we feel good looking at familiar surroundings and hearing the Polish language. This is true not only with regards to films, but also TV series. We also produce better and better cinema locally, winning many awards at international festivals. Polish viewers do appreciate that.”

    The 2021 Year of Recovery for Film in Visegrad Countries (YR2021) project 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.