Panel 1 – Cinema: A 21st Century Art Form

Michael Gubbins opened the second session of the conference by reminding those present of how quickly the industry moves. Though it’s only been two years since we last met, those two years in the digital age are like “dog years” – technology has moved on by ten.

So, is there anything different about going to the cinema? Can we talk now about audiences in the creative industries without having to use those corporate terms we know as “dirty words”?

Gubbins says our relationship needn’t be a defensive one – that innovation can be good and it can be bad, what we need to do is constantly bring it back to increasing audiences. “Innovation is not an objective thing”, he says, “It’s not useful on its own, unless it’s attached to something.”

What then is the demand and how can we bring diversity into it?

In an age where Netflix has entered our picture and our discourse in a big way, but the brand of film within exhibition still exists, we need to think about whether or not it’s the experience that makes cinema unique. Is it true that “cinemas are irrelevant now” and that audiences just want “ubiquitous access”?

To wit, we return to a point made earlier today by Nico Simon, in his opening address, “There’s not just one audience, there are many audiences.”

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Maybe cinemas are moving too slowly in the wake of those dog years – as Gubbins notes, we have only now finally reached ‘2007’ with live, interactive twitter conversation and in using Skype to speak to someone who can’t physically be here…

And so, filmmaker Cristian Mungiu (Beyond the Hills) joined the conversation to talk about the trouble with connecting European cinema with audiences in Romania.

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The VPF (Virtual Print Fee) isn’t working for independent cinema. It costs more, Mungiu says, than you can get back from distributing the film in the multiplex. He also talked about the growth of piracy and how we’ve lost an entire generation of cinema-goers.

Isn’t it ultimately true, he wants to know, that the result, so often, is that “people understand film in terms of entertainment”? How, then, can we stop them from wanting entertainment at the tips of their finger tips? Mungiu suggests that VOD just won’t work unless there’s a European law that is firm against piracy – if people can, then they will always watch films for free.

Finally, the conversation returned to the issue between reception and education. What frameworks do we use to introduce European cinema and further audience development? Is cinema always made for darkened rooms or does it need to be made into an event? Where does the responsibility for film education lie – is one for schools or exhibitors? While filmmaker Bohdan Slama says no one is teaching film history, Europa Cinemas Vice President Madeleine Probst reminded the room that cinemas, through their curation and other projects, are pioneers of film education.

Film, surely, is so much more than just obtaining content, and more still than just sitting in the dark – it is the sum of those shared experiences, of a unique ‘event’, as well as of quality content that teaches us about ourselves and helps us understand the world we live in.

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And so, at the close of today’s first panel, we find ourselves returning to content: we have to begin with putting our faith into the quality and value of films themselves.

Photos courtesy of Eva Kořínková.

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