Before the conference officially opened, Nuno Fonseca moderated a panel discussion on both the problems and development prospects for the circulation of European film in Portugal.
Though not every cinema responded to the survey, the ICA (Institute of Cinema and Audio-Visual), reported that, in Portugal, non-European films account for 80% viewers and only 20% for European film. Cine-clubs, however, with special sessions for schools & in discussion with filmmakers, report 53% of viewers for European films & 47% for non-European films. Furthermore, there is a good network of municipal theatres across the country but those Cine-clubs, which often account for more than 50% of screen provision in smaller and coastal towns, offer an important platform for the exhibition of European film.
Rodrigo Francisco from CineClube de Viseu wasn’t at all surprised by the findings of the study, citing Cine-clubs as having a long tradition of doing the work to decentralise what’s on offer in the country. But the Cine-clubs do face challenges – from financing to attracting audiences. Still, in the face of so many new ways to consume content, their grassroots audience development work does speak volumes when compared with the figures for municipal theatres.
Proposals to increase viewer numbers for European film across the board include increased state support for the exhibition of non-commercial and second-run and repertory films. The ICA stated that it would also like to see a more professional circulation of films. Better still, in their own studies, they acknowledge the need to look at the more human side of both challenges and opportunities facing the sector, rather than basing their approach on the sole findings of statistics.
Américo Santos of Nitrato Filmes remarked that hosting public debates and other audience development activities has made it possible to foster interest in diverse programming but that this alone isn’t enough while Pedro Borges from Midas Filmes made the case for greater subsidy. “Distributors need theatres to screen their films,” he said, and Cine-clubs do important work in developing audiences for the exhibition of European film but “often complain about screening fees”, which then causes an obstacle in their programming.
Overall, the study revealed how crucial it is for Portugal to both restore older cinemas and to build new ones, but capital is a problem. Low-interest or even zero interest bank loans can assist in getting projects off the ground, Pedro Borges from Midas Filmes said, but the situation is such that cinemas will still be repaying those debts five or more years down the line. A groundswell of support is important but in order to flourish there is a very real need for municipal support.
Rodrigo Francisco also pointed to the lack of specific funding for Cine-club set-up and equipment. There is a need, he said, to invest in updating equipment (especially for cinemas that were early adopters of digital projection) but also to support the regular programme activity of the Cine-clubs. In order to become financially viable in the longer term, Cine-clubs need to establish and develop their programmes, which means financial programme support in the first instance.
When the discussion opened up to the floor, a spokesperson for the Cinemateca Portuguesa suggested the problem is also cultural, “People are no longer used to going to the cinema… We need to encourage cinema-going, all of it has to be rebuilt.” He also proposed two ways in which the Cinemateca could help; first in the screening of Portuguese films and second in assisting with the facilities of the physical cinema buildings across the country.
A teacher who also manages a Cine-club in the room also spoke up, “The ministry of education has set up resources that are not being used including an important national cinema plan for schools. It is under subsidised and there are people that have been trained to work with the public who are not being used.” As education is key, it was also tabled that reaching new, young audiences might be better served by organising screenings in schools rather than taking them to the cinema. The counter-point, of course, is that promoting a positive experience in a cinema is absolutely key to developing those audiences in perpetuity. Finally, even if we do take groups to the cinema, there is the issue of ensuring a continuity of experience, which is the major challenge in creating and maintaining a future for cinema-going.
Photographs courtesy of Joana Linda.