On Day 4, the final day of our Seminci Lab, we focused on sustainability, access and inclusion. Mathias Holtz introduced the day by briefly explaining the Europa Cinemas Charters: Green and Sustainability Strategy Charter and Gender Balance, Diversity and Inclusion Charter. These Charters were developed through focus groups with different types of cinemas in the Network who work in various contexts and regions. These Charters aim to assist cinemas in addressing issues of sustainability and inclusion which are of concern to audiences who visit our cinemas.
The first presentation of the day was Julia Metzger, from Hagabion who took the train all the way from Sweden to join us in Spain. Julia presented on ‘Game Event Focusing on Climate Change’, posing the question ‘how can films and storytelling change anything?’. The impact that cinema can have on engaging and activating audiences in regard to sustainable issues is not to be underestimated. Julia also suggested that there is a need to form a network of cinemas and cultural organisations which are concerned with the climate crisis, suggesting we gather under the title ‘People Climate Courage Resistance’. Anyone interested in joining can contact Julia!
Next up was Patricia Velasco Sanz from Cines Embajadores, Spain, who presented how her cinema is tackling sustainability by measuring its carbon footprint. Cines Embajadores measures the carbon produced by the films they screen, their projection, their operations and their catering output. Which is not only useful information but has allowed them to become climate neutral through carbon offsetting and reducing their carbon output. By being explicitly concerned with the climate crisis and making a public environmental commitment Patricia says they aim to inspire spectator mobility within their audiences to also address issues of sustainability.
Tamara Visković from Zlatna Vrata in Croatia presented on ‘Cinema as an Inclusive Community Center’, explaining the importance for Zlatna Vrata to create an inclusive space for the local population. Tamara outlined how their approach to inclusion does not just apply to those with disabilities but also children, audiences with lower income, older audiences, migrants and seasonal workers. To ensure the local community feels included in their venue Zlatna Vrata has one day a week, every Monday, during which they invite anyone in to host events, including universities, local organisations or even local communities who want to discuss parking spaces – as long as it is of interest to local audiences. Tamara discussed the physical accessibility measures of the cinema but also made clear that ‘a lift is not accessibility in itself, if your programme does not address audiences access for example for Deaf or blind audiences’. The cinema also provides free buses from rural areas for people to attend.
We rounded off the session with our final surgery slot of the Lab. Neža Mezan from Mestni kino Domžale, Slovenia, posed the question, ‘how can we implement an inclusion policy while fighting monetary and infrastructural issues?’. Although already undertaking a number of inclusion and accessible projects, including presenting a Deaf film festival produced by and for Deaf audiences, Neža said that they want to do more within the limitations that they have, Limitations which include lack of wheelchair access within their smaller screen, no audio induction loop and lack of funding for specific access provisions.
The surgery slot question was also the focus of our next workshop, during which the Lab participants worked in groups to discuss how they might tackle specific issues of inclusion or greening policies with reference to the Green and Sustainability Strategy Charter and Gender Balance, Diversity and Inclusion Charter – which were shared through Whatsapp to reduce printing!
Feeding back from the workshop, the Lab participants had varied approaches to both sustainability and diversity issues. Improving staff awareness of climate concise practices was suggested, alongside monthly showcases of ecologically focused films which are also cinematically relevant. Simple steps like considering what materials your cinema uses, including simple steps like using glass instead of plastic cups and carbon-neutral paper for printing materials. Delivery of physical DCPs by bicycle could also be the future!
Advice was shared about undertaking training with organisations which support people who are blind and those who have limited mobility so you can better understand how different people have to navigate your venue. Upskilling your staff in disability awareness and making sure they feel confident in communicating with disabled and Deaf audiences was also said to be key to making your venue more inclusive. Lobbying to ensure access materials, including descriptive subtitles for Deaf audiences and audio description for blind audiences, are included with all films was also suggested. Gender balance was addressed, with suggestions that include women in programming efforts and ensuring that there are more women in public discussions or Q&A events.
Considering public transport schedules when programming films was discussed as it encourages more people to come by public transport but also it ensures audiences who use public transport feel they can come and not miss the last bus!
After our final group lunch, during which the hot topics continued to be how we improve sustainability and inclusion, Ioana led us through a debrief of the Lab. Ioana shared some insights inspired by the past few day’s conversations at the Lab, highlighting the essential need to balance tasks for staff (and ourselves!) with things they have to do with things they really love to do so they don’t get burned out. Investing time in team members, especially those with skill sets that might not be easily replicable, means happy teams and better operations. This is particularly relevant to projectionists as their skillset has become harder to develop due to the lack of available training.
Reflecting once again on partnerships, the Lab participants suggested that although we might always want to say ‘yes’ to everything, all events and partnerships, it is important to really consider the time and resources you need for projects. Sometimes saying no can be more useful for both you and the potential partner or simply being extremely clear about the processes and expectations needed to deliver a project successfully.
Ioana also read a reply from Deborah Shirley Cohrs, who presented on digital marketing on Day 2 of the Lab, answering questions the Lab participants had following the presentation. Deborah says that she does not necessarily think that paid marketing on social media then results in un-boosted posts performing worse. When and how often to post was also a much-asked question and Deborah explained that over-posting in the run-up to an event can mean you end up competing with your own content, lessening your reach with audiences. Deborah says quality over quantity by posting valuable information most useful for your audiences is preferable to overposting.
Ioana then summarised some of the key learnings from the past few days. Branding and communications were recurring themes, with Ioana summarising discussions by saying that your brand should align with your values. Although we would all like to be we can not be everything to everyone so focusing on what your cinema offers and your identity is what we should always be referring back to. This helps you choose your partners who are aligned with your values and makes it easier to understand your cinema’s place in the market. Your brand, value and programming differentiates your cinema.
In regards to marketing, you have to choose your tone for your communications and make sure it is consistent. This is important as community can be created through the way you communicate as people can recognise themselves in your cinema’s values through your communications. In terms of eventisation, which has become the reality of cinemas as exhibitors seek to address expectations of audiences, especially after the pandemic, Ioana repeats what has become evident, that the value and reach of a film are built through theatrical releases. Audiences want to return to cinemas even though ways of looking at films have changed. Ioana urged everyone to focus on the social aspect of cinema, the real value of our venues is to come together to experience films with others, with our communities.
Adrian Preda, of Europa Cinemas, then discussed the ways in which Europa Cinemas can support exhibitors. Innovations Labs, like this one, are just one of the projects Europa delivers to ensure cinemas can be connected with each other. As well as Collaborate To Innovate and the Conference, Europa Cinemas also runs Next/Change which is an exchange programme for exhibitors to visit other cinemas within the Network. You can find more information about Next/Change here.
To round off the Lab, the participants shared one thing they have learned and the first new thing they will implement on their return. The participants shared gratitude for the space and time to connect with other exhibitors, saying they have a ‘feeling of togetherness, your day looks like my day so we share the same experiences and feelings’. Connections and shared issues were a repeated learning outcome, with exhibitors surprised but reassured to learn that all cinemas share such common problems. Everything from administrative software to simple improvements like projecting the upcoming film programme onto the screen before films!