Chain's plan to play niche films for longer time

LONDON — With multiplexes and Hollywood films dominating the cinema landscape, Poland’s New Horizons Assn. and the Helios exhibition chain are looking to the multi-screen model to revolutionize arthouse exhibition. New Horizons has converted an existing multiplex in the center of western Poland’s largest city, Wroclaw, into the biggest arthouse cinema in Eastern and Central Europe.

Ten years ago multiplexes accounted for just 26% of screens in Poland; by 2011, that figure had risen to 63%.

The nine-screen, 2,329-seat Helios New Horizons opened for business Aug. 31 with a program of 12 titles from nine countries, including Woody Allen’s “To Rome With Love,” U.K. comedy “Four Lions,” French smash “The Intouchables” and Wim Wenders’ 3D documentary “Pina.”

“The key is allowing ambitious films to play longer and with time get better rates,” says Radek Drabik, managing director of New Horizons Assn. “This is mutually beneficial as distributors get a longer run. Most arthouse films need time for word of mouth to work. We offer that time.”

It is an ambitious move with the cinema looking to attract around 450,000 visitors per year in a city with a population of only 700,000.

“As in every country, the arthouse audience is niche but our analysis allows us to take the risk,” says Drabik. “A number of less obscure arthouse films, such as ‘Midnight in Paris’ or ‘The Intouchables’ have been doing really well in Poland. I think if we hit the programming balance right we can fill the seats.”

In another unusual move, the site will eschew concessions stands with popcorn, instead offering cafes and bistros, accessible to everyone in the city-center location, not just cinemagoers.

The all-digital multiplex, which is also equipped with supplemental 35mm projectors in some auditorium, allows for more flexible programming. The cinema will host at least eight different fall festivals and will also act as a film education center accommodating meetings, Q&As, exhibitions and developing film education projects for children and the city’s large population of students.

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