Admissions rise 7% for the year

What exactly is arthouse? Whatever it is, it enjoyed a big boost in Germany last year.

According to AG Kino, the German guild of art film theaters, the number of admissions at German arthouse cinemas rose 7% in 2008 over 2007.

Talk to international distribs at the EFM, however, and they’ll tell you arthouse isn’t selling well — filmgoers are staying away from pics with the trademark arthouse focus on downer subject matter.

Yet the arthouse label is broad in Germany, and programming at “arthouse” cinemas here varies widely.

As in the U.S., where a popular German mainstream film might end up in an arthouse theater as a specialty product, foreign-language pics might play in Teutonic arthouse theaters. Mainstream multiplexes here always carry dubbed international titles, while arthouse theaters regularly carry original-language versions of many of those same mainstream pics, thus turning them into arthouse films.

AG Kino attributed the marked increase last year to higher attendance among older auds, as well as to increased cooperation with schools, which has resulted in high numbers of kids attending special arthouse screenings and touring youth-aimed fests like the British Films School Festival (Britfilms) and Gallic showcase Cinefete.

Britfilms, for example, is touring with titles such as “Nanny McPhee” and “This Is England,” while Cinefete is unspooling titles like “Persepolis.” “Arthouse films here are basically sophisticated and challenging works of high quality and critical acclaim,” says Arne Schmidt of German exhib chain CinemaxX, who said even a film like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” would be considered arthouse here.

CinemaxX has its own arthouse showcase, artMaxX. The exhib will screening Berlinale screener “Hilde” under the banner. Kai Wessel’s biopic of late German star Hildegard Knef, which is going out via Warner Bros. here, may not be your typical arthouse title, but what is?

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