As studios shun arthouse fare, exhibs get creative

BRUSSELS — With Hollywood focusing on four-quadrant pictures and tentpoles, industry commentators Stateside are starting to wonder if some moviegoers are being neglected, especially viewers who’ve tired of comic adaptations and toy-friendly franchises.

In Europe, any gap between what the majors supply and what the audience wants is hard to size up.

For Kinepolis, operating in Belgium, France and Spain, the gap is real. “It is bridged mainly by local content and, in the future, more and more by alternative content,” says group spokeswoman Myriam Dassonville. Alternative content covers live opera, theater and other events made possible by digital projection.

“In countries where local content forms a significant part of the film offer, such as (in) France and Spain, the gap is better filled than in countries such as Belgium,” Dassonville adds.

Kinepolis has created the Cinemanie brand in Belgium for promoting arthouse films. “These auteur movies are also important to attract audiences looking for great depth in movies,” Dassonville notes. Examples include Pedro Almodovar’s “Broken Embraces” (which in Spain has been a top earner), “Looking for Eric” and “Sunshine Cleaning.”

Elsewhere, though, exhibitors are generally satisfied with the mix of pictures supplied by the majors.

In Germany, UCI Kinowelt doesn’t see a problem, according to spokeswoman Anna Zafiris. “We offer a lot of films especially for people in their late 30s and above, such as ‘Revolutionary Road,’ ‘Valkyrie,’ ‘Doubt’ and ‘Last Chance Harvey.’ ”

Dominant Swedish chain SF Bio also is happy that Hollywood is providing the diversity it needs, citing “Mamma Mia!,” “Sex and the City,” “Australia” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

“We are well-served with that kind of film,” says spokesman Thomas Runfors, who adds that local production in Sweden is also usefully broad.

In Eastern Europe, says Palace Cinemas topper V.J. Maury, it’s the volume rather than the mix that is causing concern with d-cinema and virtual print fees entering the equation.

“If I see any gaps, it’s in the number of overall releases in our markets. I want this number to increase, especially in a (virtual print fee)-financed world.”

If the studios dumb-down their slates, he says, the gap will be filled by independents or smaller companies.

“We created a distribution arm, Palace Pictures, which picks up these specific types of movies which are almost universally more sophisticated.”

Maury also sees local films giving U.S. product a run for the money, particularly with mature auds.

“Some of the biggest performers in the Czech Republic have been locally produced movies, where the subject matter seemed to skew a little bit older,” he says. Maury thinks the large volume of CGI movies coming out of the studios may give Hollywood an image problem rather than hiding a gap in the market. “I think there could be a perception now that the only thing playing at the cinema is talking-animal movies.”

He is more concerned about films that aim for a broad demographic, giving less-committed moviegoers a bad experience. “What I worry about as an exhibitor is customers who don’t want to come back.”

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