Day 1, Session 2: Beyond Recovery – Community cinema

Beyond the films it shows, a cinema is a place, and it offers a sense of community to both its visitors and its collaborative partners – as Michael Gubbins says, both “in difficult times and in a period of renewal.”

Christian Landais, ADRC Chief Executive for the French National Agency for Cinema Development talked about the 1,400 cinema strong organisation’s structure, which is not a state entity but was created by the ministry of culture in 1983 and is supported by the CNC. In the 1990s admissions came down to 113 million in Franceand today we are looking at 150 or 160 million to be achieved this year which, he notes, should not be cause for despair. “We’ve always had the same values,” he said, “People always talk about the cinema disappearing, but we’re still here.”

One focus for the organisation is repertory or heritage films. From their network, 334 theatres participated in “Play It Again” cinema, bringing audiences to physical spaces where the importance of their central role in cultural life becomes an act of regeneration.

Veronica Kaup-Hasler, City Councillor for Culture and Sciences in Vienna also emphasised the significance of cinema spaces for social cohesion. “I invest in different sectors of the arts because we need it more than ever,” she said. “We survived Covid by watching films, by reading books and listening to music.” Kaup-Hasler has increased funding for production and distribution and for arthouse exhibition, too, which is an historic move for Austria. “We have to reconsider what a cinema is – stepping outside of the economic model and to regard cinema like a living museum. We have to put money into arthouse cinemas so that they keep up.” Giving money to cinemas for “just being there” and “doing the work” enables them to meaningfully reach out to audiences and make their places truly unique.

Moreover, Kaup-Hasler believes that we need better quality but fewer productions. “We can’t solve future questions with the answers of the past. Everyone who sold off water and other common things have to re-buy it at higher prices. We need solid products of the commons,” she said. Gubbins, who was clearly impressed by her empathetic yet pragmatic political approach voiced what everyone in the room was thinking, “You’re saying that cultural film actually matters?”

Kaup-Hasler is proof that local councillors and politicians can understand and even champion independent cinemas as community hubs. Cristian Hordila, Festival Manager for TIFF Transilvania Film Fest, Romania has also had a positive experience in influencing local politicians.

After communism there were almost 400 screens in Romania and, 20 years later in 2010, there were only around 27, the remainder of the screens becoming real estate for mayors to trade into hotels, bingo halls and discotheques. “We realised we have to use our involvement, political connections and funds to succeed in reopening or keeping venues,” Hordila said. So, using soft pressure, they convinced city hall to give them a cinema venue – Cinema Victoria – and set about funding employees and renovations to achieve their dream. They continue to manage the venue and no longer require money from city hall.

Gubbins asked, “If you’ve got to make the same argument over and over again, what is it for cinema?” Hordila was clear with his one-word response, “Legacy.” He outlined how there will always be administrative people to engage, regardless of the governing party, which means it’s about building organic relationships with them, gaining their trust, and using those strong relationships to have them understand the legacy of cinema in the city and what it offers the community. “We always invite them, so that it includes them in what we’re doing,” he said. “But we avoid promoting any politicians or taking any side in terms of political parties.”

Metka Dariš, Director at Kinodvor in Slovenia – talked about building visual literacy in addition to showing films, which, in smaller countries, means it has to be publicly funded. “Someone has to pay for cinemas to be able to do these things,” she said. “The only accessibility is if someone pays cinema to provide it for the community. The system is very fragile, as we have a different mayor in every municipality. These cinemas are centres for these films – because they count for 30% of national admissions, even though there are less than 30 theatres nationally.” Many also have libraries, operate within museums, or have other activities attached, so they need national funding to ensure they can show national and international cinema.

“It isn’t just about survival, it’s about the next stage on,” Gubbins said. Agreeing, Kaup-Hasler said, “All our studies show that people have less and less money. This leads to exclusion and creates tension in society,” she continued, “We need to come together so that people are not left alone at home in society. It is imperative for a healthy, democratic solution.”

Landais stressed the importance of making the economic argument, “There you can really win,” he said. “Developing culture is important, but you don’t need to stress the cultural element.” Dariš agreed. “The costs are going up which means we might not generate the same % (50%) of the funds required even though we are doing very well with audiences.” She spoke about the success of school visits across the Slovenian network and its huge support from the schools, but, she said, this didn’t just ‘happen’, “It’s fifteen years of hard work.”

The argument being made, Gubbins surmised, is that cinema can bring people together and we are in a place where there are lots of divisions. Dariš agreed, quoting her colleague Koen, “Film is one of the most accessible forms of art. It’s the only contemporary form of art that you can see in the best quality, in a country that otherwise can’t show the biggest exhibitions (of painters or sculptures).”

Photographs © Francesco Clerici