Distrib Pantelis Mitropoulos prescribes a tonic for the ailing Greek cinema business: “Better films at better cinemas.”

Distribs report a drop of 20% to 30% in admissions this past season compared to the same period a year ago.

The past season has been marked by great turbulence. Hardtops reopened when outdoor cinemas closed in September in the midst of general strikes that lasted for over three weeks. In the beginning of the year, violent demonstrations resulted in buildings being torched in central Athens, causing several casualties. The Persian Gulf war renewed terrorist incidents and bomb threats. No sooner was the war ended than public transport strikes began.

All this chaos provided additional incentive for Greeks to become couch potatoes and amuse themselves with movies offered on pubcaster ERT or one of the newer private stations.

In grappling with the industry crisis, the five main distribution offices – Prooptiki, UIP, Nea Kinesi, Elke and Spentzos – agree on the need for improved cinemas and upgraded programming.

Almost 90% of central Athens’ theaters have added Dolby or an equivalent sound system and new seats. Newly renovated cinemas generally improved their receipts compared to the previous season.

Partners George Michaelides and Manos Krezias of Home Video Hellas, a branch of Elke, were the trailblazers four years ago when they completely redid the rundown Opera and Radio City cinemas. Business boomed afterwards and has remained steady.

Restored landmark bums

George, Alexander and Spiros Spentzos, scions of their father’s 50-year-old business, Spentzo Film, restored their landmark Ideal Cinema, only to watch it burn early last year. Fortunately, the fire occurred at night when the house was empty.

Undaunted, they invested $730,000, partly supplemented by state aid and insurance money, to rebuild it and produced one of Athens’ most magnificent theaters. It has Europe’s second largest commercial cinema screen, a state-of-the-art sound system and plush armchairs.

The Ideal has developed into a very chic “in” place, especially for young couples on dates, and business in nearby bars and restaurants has soared.

The centrally located Astor Cinema, converted from a legitimate theater, has had a successful first season.

Home Video Hellas has systematically upgraded hardtops in its Odeon chain and its success in introducing fresh popcorn to Greeks has inspired other entrepreneurs to announce plans to follow suit next season.

George Michaelides says: “Snack bar sales have tripled here. We have taken over concessions at cinemas leased by other owners.”

No multiplexes exist in Greece other than a small triplex in the small city of Larissa.

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