Day 1, Session 1: Re-imagining the Cinema Experience

“We’ve been able to enhance audience and content by investment,” Michael Gubbins stated. There is clear evidence that investing in cinemas works so what this first session hoped to address is how those funds can be best used to ensure ongoing engagement and long-term sustainability, not just project development.

Valerio Carocci of Association Piccolo America gave a dynamic presentation that was met with rapturous applause. A non-profit association of young activists, Piccolo America fought to save an historic cinema by occupying it for two years – both showing films and sleeping there. They also present free outdoor screenings of repertory films for sixty days, but encourage their huge following to pay to see new releases in cinemas. They’ve attracted high profile national filmmakers to attend and present, including Paolo Sorrentino, Matteo Garrone and Roberto Benigni and any annual profit is reinvested in future cultural activities. An initiative created by people between the ages of 20 and 30, Piccolo America is very active on social media, with more than 55,000 instagram followers, as well as having a positive social impact by creating spaces for young people to thrive, such as their new study room and library, which is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Suzanne Bos (Head of Marketing, Focus Arnhem, Netherlands)

Numax/Duplex Cinema in Spain has also diversified its operations in order to engage new audiences. A co-operative with a bookshop, cinema, lab and distribution arm, Duplex produce their own trailers for special events and retrospectives. Similarly, Focus Arnhem in the Netherlands has put its marketing energy into creating a welcoming and enterprising physical space for young people. Bringing “form, function and sustainability” to “an urban and historical context”, Focus ask the audience to participate in programme proposals, and work with local stakeholders and groups such as an art academy to produce diverse and engaging events. “Focus has become a third place, next to home and work, where you like to spend a lot of time,” Head of Marketing for Focus, Suzanne Bos said. 

Pedro Borges of Cinema IDEAL/Midas Filmes was also positive in the face of a changing local landscape. What was once the popular cinema and historic centre of Lisbon “is now the tourist centre”, he said. But while “it’s difficult to live and work in the city centre”, what IDEAL and the other examples given show is that even in areas that are not where traditional arthouse audiences reside, new developments in placemaking are relevant for local populations.

Left to right: Pedro Borges (Exhibitor/Distributor, Cinema IDEAL/Midas Filmes, Portugal) and Michael Gubbins (Partner, Sampo Media, UK)

A decidedly positive take on what has, until now, been largely a giant question mark around ‘how do we attract young audiences’, the discussion focused on the question of how we engage with the community – meaningfully and long-term. “The objective is the social experience,” Michael Gubbins surmised, not in getting young people to see certain types of films. “There is a mission,” he continued, “and the mission is to get people to watch films, but what you’re saying is that you make a brilliant environment and people will want to be there, a home away from home.” 

Gubbins emphasised how vital outreach beyond our known arthouse bubbles is, “We can hang out with our liberal arthouse friends but culture has to break out and reach wider audiences. The block in our heads that it’s for people like us has got to go and we’ve got to go into those places where cinema has not been a part of the day to day life, to take the risk to reach beyond the arthouse bubble and to reach places where cinema has been neglected.”

Ramiro Ledo Cordeiro (Exhibitor, Numax/Duplex Cinema, Spain)

Ledo Cordeiro agreed, “It is mostly blockbusters and arthouse blockbusters that work, that allow people to come into a place they maybe wouldn’t come to otherwise because they are going to watch an Oscar nominated movie. It’s also an opportunity; you can trailer other films that maybe no one would have heard of, you know you have a cinema but you also know you have a place for people to come.” Investments, then, are not only needed for programme support but in creating an environment that feels welcoming and part of the community it hopes to reach.

The session concluded on a hopeful note for the future and accessibility of arthouse venues as Borges succinctly put it, “We are here not only for cinema and for art and for culture but also because we are living in a community and we believe that cinema should be available to everyone.”

Photographs courtesy of Joana Linda.