Day 1, Session 1: Beyond Recovery – Pathways Ahead

Michael Gubbins opened the session on a positive note, “One of the benefits of the pandemic is the resilience and the rejuvenation of younger people.” With this in mind, he was ever optimistic about the pathway ahead, “The programmes, charters and ideas we’re going to hear about are fresh approaches. It’s not just recovery, but rejuvenation and then renaissance, I hope.”

Laurent Creton, Professor from the University Paris III Sorbonne Nouvelle, gave the keynote address, highlighting the importance of an historical perspective, including movie-going evolutions. In the 1950s, the public flooded into cinemas, because movie theatres offered something not available elsewhere. Today, we have a very different offering, “We have films everywhere – instruments everywhere, in our pockets, even,” Creton said. “Theatres continue to be present but they are not always full. The situation is completely different in different countries and festivals work – people want to be together and share things.”

There was a challenge before the pandemic as figures were already dropping in some markets and, historically at least, cinema has survived despite the advent of new media and local and international crises. “We built up the film industry at the beginning of the 20th century and it is still here in 2022 on an international scale. It is still here in theatres, despite the arrival of TV, home video, and personal devices.” Creton said.

These are long-term trends and the issue today concerns how to promote and defend diversity when audiences can see anything, anywhere, anytime and almost anyhow. What cinemas offer is a place, a session and a ritual. It is, above all else, about editorialisation, Creton believes.

Simone Gialdini, General Director, ANEC, Italy said the situation in Italy differs when compared with France. “We lost maybe 120 of 3,500 movie theatres. The government has supported us these past 3 years.” The Italian market has lost 20% on preceding years and with very little content over the summer months – with no national productions at all – it has been an instance of awaiting the return of blockbusters and tentpole titles. Major support and emergency cases were granted. There has been a change in government and Italy is now looking at critical issues for cinemas across the country. Independent cinemas are losing fewer admissions than other theatres, now standing at -49%.

Public support is critical for the first step, which is survival. Going beyond that, there is hope for renewal. To get past the immediate problem, there is a new three-year plan in Italy that looks at the future, including support from the state and industrial sector. The longer term plan is to manage without government support but to work together, and to work on communication as a joint action between distributors and exhibitors.

Left to Right: Jannik Rakusa, Exhibitor, Waystone Film KG, Austria; Katarzyna Orysiak-Marrison, Head of Marketing for Gutek Films, Poland, and Simone Gialdini, General Director, ANEC, Italy

Katarzyna Orysiak-Marrison, Head of Marketing for Gutek Films in Poland said we are in a moment of change, but that there is always change and disruption, so what we do and have already been doing is trying to adapt. To that end, Gutek Films has become more tentative about buying films without some sense of a guarantee – festivals serve as an incubator for testing which films work and which don’t. The findings are that not all films need theatrical distribution. The challenge, however, is that sometimes audiences can really surprise in terms of what they want, which makes forecasting more of a challenge.

“In a world of huge amounts of content, your approach is to focus on which ones are more cinematic and allow time for the cinematic campaign?” Gubbins enquired. “It’s constant experiment and consultation,” Orysiak-Marrison said. “It’s our first year using this new approach and it’s not a system but a new way of looking at which films to buy. The audience is changing every year.”

Christine Beauchemin-Flot, Director, Cinéma Le Select, said she was hopeful and intended to remain so. “To follow on, and broaden what was said, given our situation, it’s very important to stick together and share our thoughts on possible proposals and solutions we can find in this context.” She cited data as an important indicator in guiding decisions, especially around audience profiles, as staying home becomes a trend. “We’re very fortunate in our field of work because we can always invent new things, and reach out to different audiences,” she said. “A lot of arthouse cinemas cater to their geographic neighbourhood, and are close to the people, which is what people need.” We need to move with the times, using modern tools, and to draw on values and missions of the arthouse movie theatres.”

Christine Beauchemin-Flot, Director Cinéma Le Select and Michael Gubbins, Sampo Media

Jannik Rakusa, Exhibitor and programme manager for two cinemas in Austria talked about their adaptation of Cineville for Austria, bringing 18 arthouse exhibitors together. Cineville is “non-stop cinema”, a subscription model that encourages audiences to just go and see a film. Each theatre can retains its own personality and doesn’t lose its identity in any way but works together as a group of arthouse cinemas. “We’ve learnt a great deal from Cineville, to encourage people to see more diverse films. It costs 22 euros a month, and people can see as many films as they like at the cinemas that are part of the project. We have 18 cinemas working with us, and a student studying in Vienna can still see a film in their home town because they’ve paid the subscription.” A typical subscription would be eight months but for people under the age of 26, it’s just four, so that the threshold isn’t too high for young people.

Gubbins concluded the session as it opened, with that same optimism, “Values are critical. There is a responsibility for us to introduce films to people who don’t know them.”

Photographs © Francesco Clerici