Multiplex thrives despite strife

Venue has rung up some 1.8 million admissions

JERUSALEM — Opening a multiplex is a risky business at the best of times.

Cinema City, Israel’s biggest and newest multiplex, opened just north of Tel Aviv at the end of 2002, one of the bloodiest years in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent history.

During that year, 22 Palestinian suicide attacks killed more than 200 Israeli civilians and injured hundreds more. Roughly 950 Palestinian civilians and militants died in the same period. In the backdrop, a second Gulf War was looming.

With bombs going off in public places two to three times a month, many Israelis opted to stay at home.

“It was a dreadful time,” says Julian Cohen, one of Cinema City’s backers. “Our financial advisers were against the idea.”

The 21-screen venue — boasting a state-of-the-art digital projection room, Imax screen, two interactive cinemas, a VIP gallery and a range of bars and restaurants — has proved the pessimists wrong. According to its tally, it clocked some 1.8 million admissions in its first year of activity. Not a bad performance, given that cinema attendance in Israel has fallen since the beginning of the Palestinian Intifada at the end of 2000.

According to Israeli Cinema Industry Assn. data, admissions stood at 11.3 million in 1999, slumped to 9.2 million in 2002 and are estimated to be about 9.5 million for 2003.

Property developer Leon Edery is the driving force behind Cinema City. Coin was put up by his brother Moshe Edery, head of Israeli distrib/production company United King; Paris-based distributor-producer Samuel Hadida; and retired insurance topper Cohen.

“Leon first had the idea some 20 years ago, but couldn’t get it off the ground,” Cohen says. “He approached me three years ago. … We knew one another through property investments we’d made in Portugal.”

Indeed, the consortium is building a chain of cinemas in Portugal that will include a 32-screen venue in Lisbon.

On a recent December evening, security was tight. As in most public places in Israel, bags and car trunks were checked. Some 15 guards patrol 24 hours a day.

Cohen puts Cinema City’s success down to two key factors: security and the quality of the environment. “People want to go to a place where they feel secure,” he says.

He recounts an anecdote about three teenage girls who stopped by his office to thank him for providing a safe place where their parents would let them hang out. “They said, ‘Thanks to you, we’ve started dating.’ I rang Leon and told him, ‘We’re a success!’ “

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