Day 2, Session 4 Panel 1: Cinemas and a new ecosystem

Looking at the future of cinema and the whole value chain, Michael Gubbins asked the panel how we can come together in the market now. He posed three areas for sustaining a new ecosystem: 1) we need to understand what those realities are, and 2) assessment of relationships along the value chain and 3) how we can work together to build audiences for the future.

Juan Heras from Cines Van Dyck likened the devastating impact of Covid to a tsunami, emphasising the importance of cultural enthusiasm and cultural diversity. “We’ve talked a lot about younger audiences,” he said, “but my question now is how to get the older people back to the cinema? We are social animals, after all, and we need to be together. Some want to come back but haven’t been back yet.” In addition to encouraging the more reluctant audiences to attend, Heras also identified issues around how we communicate with these audiences and how much time and space is given to any individual film, “People don’t have time to see the films, we must ensure films are released at a more leisurely pace…Time is a freedom, you choose the time, the place, and who you spend that time with. A cinema should be restful.”

Gubbins reiterated Heras’ point about the importance of ritual and cinema-going, “The space itself still matters, as a key part of the ecosystem,” he said. And Daniela Zuklic from Thalia Theater in Potsdam, Germany said they have exactly the same problems as in Spain. “We learned something during the pandemic. People showed great solidarity with us, arthouse cinemas in particular – they came to see us and asked how we were doing, and when lockdown finished they returned to the cinema,” she said. “The cinema is a cultural venue and it needs public money to this end. Distributors themselves don’t invest enough money in marketing – many invest too little in terms of energy and in time and money. We have to cover a lot of the costs required to distribute films.”

Left to Right: Juan Heras, Cines Van Dyck, Spain; Daniela Zuklic, Thalia Theater, Potsdam, Germany; Jon Barrenechea, Global VP Distribution, MUBI; Laurent Dutoit, Agora Fims, Switzerland; Eva Essen Arndorff, Træart Film Distribution, Sweden

Gubbins asked the panel what could be done about both the market saturation – too many films released – and the breakdown in promotion of films, “There’s not enough information from Comms and not enough time for word of mouth,” he surmised. If there are too many releases at once, giving the necessary time and direct marketing required for each individual title becomes difficult, Zuklic said. But distributors aren’t likely to give the funds direct to cinemas to invest in local audience development, so the question remains.

Laurent Dutoit from Agora Films in Switzerland (both a distributor and exhibitor) agreed that public funding is too low for the levels of support required, “It’s good to have,” he said, “but it’s not enough (1% of our budget), we need back up: local, national, [from the] European Commission.” He cited lack of transparency from online platforms as a major problem, because the streamers don’t share their data.

Eva Esseen Arndorff from Triart Film distribution in Sweden said it was a distributor’s job to watch and sift through “all the crap so we don’t have to have it on our screens in a year.” The work has to be collaborative, she suggested, with cinemas keeping films longer and then distributors being able to increase their investment. “It’s important to believe that we can make some change. We are there to be brave, in a way, to give it a try,” she said.

Left to Right: Juan Heras, Cines Van Dyck, Spain; Daniela Zuklic, Thalia Theater, Potsdam, Germany; Jon Barrenechea, Global VP Distribution, MUBI; Laurent Dutoit, Agora Fims, Switzerland; Eva Essen Arndorff, Træart Film Distribution, Sweden

Finally, Jon Barrenechea, Global VP Distribution, for MUBI talked about the possibilities of collaborative working. MUBI started as an online film festival, with curation, and the key thing is that it’s ‘hand picked’, he said, even now that they have made their full catalogue available. They publish a printed magazine, two podcasts, have online Notebook, and so the contextual information they add to the film is a way of handling each film uniquely. “We’re not selling kilos of potatoes,” Barrenechea said, “Going to the movies is a habit. It’s not like a concert, which is an appointment. But it’s lost: just regularly going to the cinema. They’re not afraid of Covid anymore, they’ve just lost the habit. Young people are the growth sector because they want to go out.”

Summarising, Gubbins said, “The realities it comes down to, seems to me, much clearer. We’re competing with thousands of other things to do. We’re trying to find an ecosystem in which audiences can connect with all these things that compete. We have to be better than ever before to compete in that world with content and ideas and we’re hitting a problem, we’re doing it through volume.” The issue can’t be located in the age-old debate about too many films versus not enough screens, but rather in a market that is competing against itself instead of partnering to serve audiences in collaboration.

Photographs © Francesco Clerici