After two days of talks and discussions, Michael Gubbins told the room that he had been accused of being “too positive”. But for anyone who thinks that’s hyperbole, you only need to look at the breadth and depth of engagement across the network to know that the stories show true success. Reflecting on the workshops, Gubbins reminded the room that “The relationships we have with our audiences tend to be close, but data and instinct is better than just instinct on its own.”
Reminding the room that data doesn’t have to be a technical thing, “If we could see data use in much more human terms – we tend to think of it as something for experts,” then we could work with consultants and systems to better observe and interact with our audiences.
Briefly addressing the VOD shaped elephant in the room, Gubbins placed the emphasis on screen literacy more widely and cinemas as valued physical environments, “We were getting very concerned yesterday about Netflix but people will look at VOD as a way of staying in touch with great film and, if they want to see it in an environment it was meant for, cinema still seems to be as popular as ever.”
The stories shared across the two days showed that building welcoming, accessible environments was bringing in new and diverse audiences, and building lasting, meaningful ties with local communities. Collaboration, then, between exhibitors and distributors and in partnership with local groups and individuals as well as with financial stakeholders, is the key to sustainability.
This is also true for engaging with young people and the conversation was centred around working with young people in honest, authentic and trusting ways, “Young people have a nose for bullshit,” Gubbins said, outlining how authenticity is essential in both attitude and communications, “Nothing you’re doing is about selling individual tickets, it’s about creating authentic relationships and the user experience has got to be easy, credible and enjoyable.”
In an age of “unlimited choice”, listening is key, and our approach has to be proactive, “It’s not about things that happen to us, it’s things we can change and influence.” Examples of subscriptions models had also showed positive results; MUBI’s UK experiment, MUBI Go is getting new and young audiences into cinemas – 50% of users are under 24 and less than 20% are over 45 – while Yorck Kinogruppe and Cineville found their subscriber services increased the risk audiences would take on less well advertised independent film and smaller arthouse releases.
Other important initiatives shared over the past two days include a number of community building projects in areas with non-traditional arthouse communities, reaching people living below the poverty line, reconnecting with people who aren’t part of gentrification but who want and need cinema provision in their suburbs and towns. The overwhelming overarching messaging was that it’s important to build human connections so what we’re saying is not, “this belongs to us” but “this belongs to you”.
Closing the conference, the positivity continued as Nico Simon addressed the room, “The arthouse sector is embracing the changing environment. To change, to adapt is important – not just adapting, but trying also to shape the future.”
Maddy Probst echoed Simon’s sentiments and added, “What the past few days has demonstrated is that the appetite for European films, the demand, is there. We need to ask for more investment… It’s important we don’t become too insular in our thinking, that we collaborate… cinema plays a role in creating cultural value as well as economic value.” In addition to the importance of the conference, Probst highlighted the work achieved at the Innovation Labs, where more complex issues across organisational culture, safeguarding, staff development and strategic planning can be addressed. She also gave a special mention to the women in the room, and spoke about the need to support other women in the industry.
Nina Pece Grilc talked about the cyclical nature of the industry ecosystem, on the inspiring spirit of the people working in the cinemas and how that translates to audiences, building numbers and curating taste which, in turn, inspires filmmakers. She also pointed to film education as a significant part of any child’s development – in Solvenia, she said, the word is closer to ‘upbringing’ than ‘education’. And, while we don’t all face the same challenges and issues across countries, what we do share are our goals; to be manageable and sustainable in our individual cinemas, but also as a network and for our societies and the planet. To this end, Claude-Eric Poiroux commended the network for making it possible to increase confidence, competence & skill.
Photographs courtesy of Joana Linda.