Bologna, Day 2 – how to get the audience back

Sunday 26 June – On day two the lab participants were welcomed by Gian Luca Farinelli, General Director of Cineteca di Bologna. He stated how happy he was to see exhibitors back at Il Cinema Ritrovato. He expressed how incredible it was to see 6000 people at the Piazza Maggiore watching a film like The Great Dictator together, including many young people. Especially in a time where everyone used to streaming films on small screens. Italian cinemas have lost 60% of it’s visitors compared to 2019, but these days at the festival are evidence we can win this fight and that it is our duty to  defend this beautiful craft that is cinema.

Metka Daris from Kinodvar opened the lab with her presentation Cinema on my mind. 2019 was the best year for cinema in Slovenia, but of course there was a drop because of the pandemic. Now their numbers are 77% of 2019. They’ve experimented online during these times but truly believe in not giving away content for free. Film is art, and it’s worth paying for.  The lessons they took from it were that digital and physical screenings will always co-exist. Their goal is to preserve the magic of cinema and to try to strengthen the cinema-going habit. We have to make sure that cinema is part of our visitors life. But it’s a fact that people will always need arts, culture and film to remain sane.

The first session were three short presentations focussed on bringing in the next generation. Madeleine Probst from The Watershed in Bristol opened the session on how they started a young talent development project called Rife in 2014 to cultivate talent in Bristol and got young influencers, content creators and youtubers together. She stresses that they were not telling the younger audience what to do, but facilitated a space for these  youngsters to meet and communicate with eachother and their role was to give guidance if it was needed. But, 8 years on, the landscape has changed and they’ve stopped this project. She says, that as exhibitors we should never do the same thing over and over again, but should thinkn about what we can offer our community and provide for them, and make space for these communities.

Emese Erdős from the Filmarchive in Hungary presented their educational Klassz programme which consists of 3 pilars:

1 – Online content where people can find educational materials, but also games to teach young people about the making of film in playful ways.

2- Organizing events, such as 35mm workshops, for children and everyone else interested. They even went to festivals with this workshop. They also organize lectures for university students, but this group is very hard to reach and it might be because of the marketing.

3 – Films are made available for free through an online streaming platform. The content is free because it’s for educational purposes and the films that are available are from their own archive and they have the rights to them,

Natália Ostrihoňová from Kino Film Europa in Bratislava shared their project on trying to reach a new generation to come to the cinema. They joined forces with a well known local theatremaker and cinephile in order to start something new and fresh, because they were forced to think of new ways to get their audience back after the pandemic. Once a month they screened a film with an introduction. Their first event were screenings of Titane and Raw, but unfortunately didn’t work out as expected, eventhough there was a lot of promotion. However, their last event, which were screenings of Ingmar Bergman’s films, were a success without even needing extra promotion. Natalia stresses that they’re not pessimistic, it’s a difficult time to reach the audience after the pandemic, but they will definitely continue.

Session two was on the eventisation for audience diversification. Valentina Damiani from Cineclub Nickelodeon in Genova presented their succesful Cineversity program. A monthly event which is set up and hosted by university students. They choose a film to watch, invite filmmakers to do introductions live or via Zoom with and have drinks/ talks afterwards. The idea is that they can use the theatre as they want. Valentina mentions that they as a cinema help the students with know-how and connections. What’s also interesting is that these young people might even make it their jobs later on. We do need a new generation to take over someday. The event is funded by the University of Genova, so the challenge is how to sustain these kinds of events without the funding.

Indre Mikelaityte from Kainas cinema centre Romuva in Lithuania presented their Cinema as Therapy sessions. They found partners such as psychologist and social workers, who already use cinema in therapy and created a filmprogramme with them. These specialists were present during the screenings to talk to the visitors afterwards. She mentions that it was amazing to see how the visitors for these events grew within a few months time and how open people were. The discussions after the screenings sometimes lasted over 2 hours. They spent €8000 for 10 sessions, but she believes that once you win your visitor’s hearts, they will surely come back to your cinema.

Elisa Giovannelli from the educational department of Cineteca di Bologna told about their all year round festivals. They have programmes for kids and families at the Cineteca, but also go to the communities to organize events outside the cinema. During Il Cinema Ritrovato they now invite young people to talk about films, write about the films and even let them select films and present them to the public. Aside from organizing festivals and events, they also welcome other festivals to use their cinema and host their events. By working together with partners they also get new audiences to the Cineteca. She ends her presentation optimistically with the stating that young audiences have found their way back to the cinema and that going to the cinema has become an event in itself.

The third session was called in-venue vs. online. Ola Starmach from Kino Pod Baranami in Poland opened the session with their VOD platform which was the first virtual cinema of Poland. This platform, she says, saved them during the pandemic and let them stay in touch with their audience. The programming was the same as they would in their cinema and distributors were very open to share their films with them. They had a lot of positive responses from their audience through their social media; their audience kept sharing their stories online and even had discussions through Zoom after they watched the films at home.

Léa Giorgi from Sauvenière in Belgium presented their Cinépilou project. After the first lockdown the educational team launched a film event online for families. They could buy one ticket and with it they could watch a movie together with the whole family. They offerend an introduction beforehand and links to playful activities. 300 tickets were sold for the first event, but in the spring there was a decline in their audience. The challenge was to convert the online attendance to become cinema visitors, but that unfortunately didn’t work out. Possibly because of the hassle of getting entire families to the cinema, but also because of ticket costs.

Paula Berzina from Kino Bize in Latvia presented their Home Cinema project, a streaming platform on which they released 4-6 films each week. It proved to be good exposure for their cinema and with it they reached a large audience. The thing that didn’t work was the streaming of classics, probably because these are already easily to be found online and if audiences want to see these film (again) they would want to see them on the big screen in the cinema, not on a tv. That’s one of the reasons why they don’t see VOD as a threat, they are convinced the cinema and these platforms can compliment eachother rather than compete with eachother.

During session four the main focus was on how to engage audiences through digital marketing. Züleyha Azman from KINO Roterdam mentions that she believes in content creation in order to engage audiences with their cinema and it’s programming. She presented a wide range of marketing tools they produce and use in their screening rooms and online, from sharing photos of the KINO crew, to Instagram gimmicks, but also making their own trailers for special programming and documentaries on their 70mm screenings and a short documentary called Dutch Angle: Chas Gerretsen & Apocalypse Now, which  premiered at Il Cinema Ritrovato in 2019, toured the Dutch & European cinemas and can now be seen on MUBI.

Paweł Panfil from Palacowe Cinema in Poland presented their efforts to build a community through social media during the pandemic. They would watch a Netflix film online and invite viewers for a discussion afterwards through Zoom.  Unfortunately there weren’t many participants, but they kept on going, also to justify their existence as a cinema. Nowadays the Facebookgroup is like a messageboard with questions, discussions on films and other things that happen in their cinema.

Blerina Pashollari from Cinema Silvio Pellico presented projects they undertook during the pandemic. They choose to define and target new audiences and set multiple business objectives for their cinema, such as growth of social media followers and it’s reach, introducing new personalized email marketing strategies through Mailchimp. To keep track of results they used Google analytics and added Facebook pixels to their website. The next steps are launching Tik Tok, a whatsapp  group and continue with their new social media stategy.

Andrea Campinoti from Cinema Stensen in Firenze shared a few creative film promotion campaigns they did on social media in the last few years. In 2020 they reached out to their younger audiences to create content in order to promote the film The Worst Person in the World. For another film they found a link between the subject of the film and a popular snack and used this in their social media to create more awareness. One of the best and funniest examples was that they created a sense of community by promising their audience they would adopt a sheep if the their audience would come to a documentary in large numbers. To top it off, the name of the sheep was also suggested by their followers.

At the end of the day the exhibitors and sales agents were divided into 6 groups and we’re asked to think about different questions that were raised during the sessions:

  • Think of innovative ways of programming:
    • Organizing special events.
  •  How to deal with competition?
    • Find a way to be unique, build communities and talk to your visitors.
    • Share human interest stories through social media.
  • Motivating the teams at the cinema
    • Try to get free tickets to museums or other festivals from the partners you already work with.
    • Inspire all team members to go to labs and festivals, not just programmers and managers.
    • Develop a filmclub for your teams and let them introduce the films.
  • How to get teenagers, students and families back to the cinema?
    • Let teenagers curate their own events and support them by sharing your know-how with them.
    • Organize screenings for parents and let the children play with toys in the screeningroom with the sound lowered and lights dimmed.
    • As for students; focus on entertaining stuff like events, introductions before the screening and of course, having drinks at the pub afterwards.
  • Achieving emotional envolvement of audiences
    • Face to face communication between team and visitors.
    • Produce merchandise with your own branding.
    • Make your cinema a safe space by creating a home-like space.
    • Share your values with your visitors, they will appreciate you for it.
  • How to keep quality and get quantity:
    • Work with your local filmfestivals, together you can be stronger by using eachother’s marketing tools and reach a bigger audience.
    • Your cinema staff should be filmbuffs so they can have conversations with your visitors.
    • Keep track of changing demographics in your city, this can mean that you have to make space for screenings with English subtitles for instance.