A difficult but necessary truth dropped in this afternoon’s session on Cinema Ecosystem, Data and Experience Economy, “We are an industry with no learning going on,” Michael Gubbins said, “What do we actually know and how much is guesswork?” The guesswork that underpins multiple links within the film value chain means that we are not learning every time we fail.
Wondering why auteur-led cinema might not be working like it used to, and how audiences are discovering and engaging with European and art house films, is an issue on which everyone has an opinion. But, starting with some concrete truths, we can begin to paint a picture.
Pablo Carrera talked through some very real concerns for venues: from pressure on the theatrical window, to competition in the attention economy, to the necessity for venues to understand they are curating experiences, not just films. He provided clear figures that show how cinema is closer in cost to retail than it is to digital rental or subscription models.
Jean-Christophe Simon, Founder of Films Boutique, based in Berlin, admitted guesswork is at play, “I cannot tell you how the market will be in one year because we are discovering it as it unfolds.” This is an absolute key issue for exhibitors. If investing in new technologies like 4D and VR, or launching a VOD platform is akin to opening Pandora’s Box, it’s unsurprising that there are conflicting views on where and how content should transition from production to audience.
One fascinating development is a sort of reverse model from MUBI. Already a strong global presence in the SVOD market, with 80,000 subscribers worldwide, MUBI have a total number of users in excess of 8 million, which means that they can talk to and drive a huge audience – already interested in European and art house films – to platforms other than their own online subscription service. With a team of dedicated curators who seek out quality content, MUBI have now entered the theatrical market, and have successfully brought Ildikó Enyedi’s 2017 Berlinale Golden Bear winner, On Body and Soul, to ten screens in the UK. Their motivator, for moving into theatrical distribution, was to “better control the window and drive audiences into cinemas,” their Marketing Manager, Kiri Inglis, said.
There was a lot time given to mulling over the sizeable gap between what funders are funding and what audiences want to see. Mark Cosgrove from UK’s Watershed spoke to the often-offputting (to some audiences) lengthy run times of European and art house films. Elsewhere in the room Tara Judah and Nina Peče pointed to problems of diversity and the very real need to not only cater to diverse audiences, but also to start with diversity across all elements of the film value chain.
Jon Barrenechea gave the example of the history of Hollywood studios’ stranglehold over all elements of the film value chain from production, across distribution and down to exhibition, to show that things may not be as bad as we think. Still, we are subject to a market economy and must think about realistic solutions within the capitalist construct in which we work, “We live in a market economy and we may not like that… We should think about film as culture and how we can protect it and carry it forward within the market economy we live in.”
Final thoughts from Daniel Mitulescu brought us back to the need for education, once again. If we don’t introduce younger audiences to foreign language films we cannot expect them to engage with them later in life. We also need to reframe the argument around television series and home viewing practices so that we understand them not as the enemy – they are still moving images, after all – but as one more competitor in an ever-shrinking attention economy where viewers are time poor. But, perhaps most provocatively of all, Gubbins returned to Jaki McDougall’s comments from earlier in the day, where she talked about empowering and entrusting audiences. The way forward may be within a capitalist system, but it is a social activity and we can ensure it is community led. Above all, it is clearly collaborative.
Photographs courtesy of Ionut Dobre.