Day 2, Session 4 Panel 2: Fighting for film: an art form with a future

Aurélie Pinto, Cinema Sociologist, University Paris III Sorbonne Nouvelle gave the keynote address, highlighting concerns shared by distributors and exhibitors around the drop in figures owing to the health crisis. But even as people have taken up subscriptions to streaming platforms, there was still a lot of support for cinemas during the health crisis in France where US blockbusters and French comedies still reign supreme, some 40 films each year accounting for 50% of total box office, even in a saturated market where up to 15 films are released every week.

Her research looked at the increase and emphasis on comfort in movie theatres while less focus has been given so far to ticket price, though it also plays a significant role in how much people see. She highlighted the success of young audience activities and school screenings, noting how important the venues themselves have become used for wrap around and alternative content for things like bakeries, book shops, cafés and more.

The main issue in France, she said, was around bridging the gap between what streamers like Netflix offer and arthouse cinema. Middle aged and older aged audiences have not returned to cinemas as strongly as young audiences since Covid hit – they are attending more sporadically, at around -50% of pre-pandemic levels – which is something independent cinemas could look at targeting.

Jan de Vries, Creative Director and programmer at Kino Rotterdam said it was curatorship and how you editorialise that is most important right now – a contrast to simply “dumping content, like Netflix do”. Because there’s an overwhelming amount of stuff to choose from, cinemas must communicate and curate, earning trust from their audience, and then leading them with quality programming. “People aren’t going to a movie,” he said, “They’re going to a movie theatre. They go to a place, they don’t really go to a film. But they choose you because you brand yourself, and people are desperate to belong to something and to identify with that place.”

José Luis Cienfuegos, Director of Sevilla European Film Festival, Spain talked about the film festival as an event. “We follow the opposite track,” he said, “But it’s more important than before, we are all part of the same team, and that’s what’s changed. We play a very relevant role in our work because we connect audiences with distributors and exhibitors. Festivals are important for the visibility of films.” Moreover, film festivals, as a point of discovery, offer a first encounter with film education for many and can help build young audience cine-literacy.

Katarzyna Siniarska, Head of Sales, New Europe Film Sales, President of Europa International in Poland spoke about the fragmentation of the markets and the subsequent issues in communication, in addressing niche audiences and across various platforms with the cycle of global premieres changing when and how to talk about the films at a local level.”Default strategies are harder to go to,” she said. “It’s more labour intensive to work on each film [New Europe Film Sales release eight titles per year], we need interviews with the filmmakers, we need talent available, we need digital junkets, but not to spend too much on travel and to be sustainable from an environmental point of view.”

Stefano Massanzi, Distributor at Lucky Red in Italy agreed that there are not enough good films and that there is an added challenge of platforms now using the communication methods that have traditionally belonged to cinemas. But there is hope in discoverability he suggested, “It’s about discovering the films – even if they are available on platforms, they are hidden. Distributors and exhibitors need to talk and join forces to bring the audiences back. It’s a mission, because the content is available everywhere.” But despite the weight of the mission, there is clarity in how to solve it, “You have to bring kids,” he said. “Kids that are in school, 2-3 hours a week for image education, and then you bring them to the cinema and then they come back. If you don’t give them the education, it will be the market and the algorithm is built on something, but it doesn’t look like the future.”

Photographs © Francesco Clerici