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Europa Cinemas Highlights European Exhibition

Locarno jury members analyze challenges, achievements

This year, Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival joined Europe’s top-tier fests as part of Europa Cinemas’ Label, a prize set up to promote European art movies.

The Label is awarded by a jury of Europa Cinemas member exhibitors to one European film in the “discovery” sections of four major fests — Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight, Venice, Berlin and Karlovy Vary.

This year Locarno will be added to the line up and it will host the Europa Cinemas prize that includes promotion and distribution coin, other incentives and access to its 1,036-member screen circuit.

Joining Europa Cinemas will give Locarno’s Industry Days informal mart, headed by Nadia Dresti, a significant boost.

The presence of the Europa Cinemas exhibitors at Locarno has also allowed for their informed input on the challenges and opportunities facing Europe’s exhibition sector. Variety profiles the jury members’ cinemas, their practices, achievements and the state of their national exhibition sectors.

Nick Vivarelli

ROD WHITE, FILMHOUSE CINEMA EDINGBURGH

To say the Filmhouse Cinema Edinburgh is an independent institution is an understatement.

The cinema, which has thrived on the city’s Lothian Road for more than 35 years, was the first truly indie cinema offered in the city and to this day continues to screen pics for the Edinburgh Film Festival.

But while audiences at the cinema have increased by 40% over the last decade, the local exhib is not without its fair share of challenges.

Rod White, head of Filmhouse, cited local competition with exhibs that program arthouse product but are run by a chain, as a key challenge that other sites in Blighty don’t face.

White noted that the rise of indie sites such as Cameo Cinema, which is owned by national exhib chain City Screen/Picturehouse (which was recently acquired by multiplex chain Cineworld), makes it difficult to compete with getting first-run on a raft of pics.

“Simply put, it’s hard to be a standalone site competing with another site working in the same area of you which is also part of a chain,” said White.

“I sit and watch while other cinemas like us across the country have access to pretty much every film they want and that is absolutely not the case for us.”

The plus is that this has caused Filmhouse to be more adventurous in its programming.

“We would attempt to be adventurous anyway. But the situation has very much forced our hand in that way,” he said.

“We cover a lot of ground and play a lot of films and, compared to other cinemas of our like, the freedom that that lack of supply has given us has brought the audience along with us by the way.”

Despite challenges, Filmhouse still posts good numbers and White notes that audiences are therefore, by some extent, shaped by what they program.

On a wider level, White said that while the market is offering up more films per week than ever before, audiences in general for the foreign-language and classic arthouse films across the country have shrunk.

“Cinemas used to be full of foreign language films,” he says. “But no longer. I have a sense that audiences for the kind of films that fall under the term ‘arthouse’ aren’t there, or have shrunk or the audience has not been served well enough.”

The key, says White, is to keep exhibition savvy and unique, and not fall into the trap of “cinema homogenizations.”

“Everyone is scrabbling for the same films but we do offer something that is different in the experience and program. We don’t sell sweets and popcorn, we show films on 35mm, we have projectionists. We are happy to trade on our uniqueness.”

Diana Lodderhose

HENK CAMPING, EUROPA CINEMAS, NETHERLANDS

Having worked for over 30 years as the topper of Filmtheater Hoogt, a major Dutch movie theater, Henk Camping played a leading role in the flourishing build of the arthouse movie biz in the Netherlands.

Today, Camping, who retired last year from Filmtheater Hoogt, works as general secretary of Europa Cinemas’ board; and as such, he’s well-placed to address Dutch and European industry challenges.

An arthouse-friendly territory, “the Netherlands has over eight arthouse distributors and a network of over a hundred independent theaters backed by local subsidies and run by motivated volunteers,” explained Camping, adding that these indie theaters have emerged over the last forty years, bolstered by the Rotterdam Film Fest.

But the Dutch industry isn’t recession-proof : “It’s suffering from major cuts in state support,” says Camping.

The jury member said the number one issue faced by exhibs belonging to Europa Cinemas is the aging of arthouse auds. “Although most theaters in the network have programs aimed at young audience, the average visitor of the network gets a little older every year.”

Added Camping, “The challenge is to keep theater-going attractive amongst an increasing number of alternatives. Exhibitors need to tackle the needs of digital differently, in terms of presentation and programming.”

Elsa Keslassy

MARY NAZARI, PIONER CINEMA, MOSCOW

Distributors on Sunday’s Locarno’s Step In Russia Market panel largely played down business prospects: the five distributors which handle Hollywood Studio releases, and also often Russian tentpoles, rep about 80% of Russia’s B.O. As release numbers escalate, more and more movies – compete for the remaining 20%.

One panelist was more upbeat about Russia, however: Mary Nazari, an exhibitor, at Moscow’s Pioner Cinema.

The air-conditioned – a Moscow must – Pioner Cinema itself is a magnificently restored former ‘50s hard-top whose marble floors, choicely lit colonnades and candelabras speak of a bygone age of movie munificence. An Omnibus Magic Bookroom shop and-in-house cafe – cognoscenti recommend its breakfast menu symiki –  complement a line-up of Haneke, Noe, Resnais and classics on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Pioner Cinema’s latest venture, however, is an 412-seat open-air cinema in Gorky Park, opened two years ago.

The open-air screen shows blockbusters, but docu-features on Mondays, movie classics on Wednesday.

“Many people walking by the park see something interesting, and buy a ticket. It’s a way of attracting the public in general,” Nazari said at Step In.

Pioner will open a second open-air theater in Moscow this summer and has offers to broaden the venture to other cities in Russia.

Exhibition has its challenges in Russia: Piracy, which may or may not be countered by recent film regs; the sway of the studios over smaller cinemas; theaters’ failure to attract older demos; high ticket prices in key locales of Euros 8 ($10).

But the open-air site has “proved very popular, a Moscow success story,” Nazari said. “May be this is a way forward for European or independent cinema,” she ventured.

John Hopewell

LUZ DELGADO, CINES VAN DYCK, SALAMANCA

For Europe’s exhibition sectors, Spain seems to represent represent their perfect storm? The country is over-screened: From the 1990s, multiplex openings outran market demand as cinema theaters were slotted into ambitious real estate projects.

Yet, whammied by piracy and now crisis, total admissions, which drive concessions, have plunged 34% from 2004’s 143.3 million to 94.2 million last year. In September, Spain Popular Party government hiked cinema tickets’ sales tax from 8% to 21%

Multiple central-city one-screens have shuttered. Salamanca’s Cines Van Dyck – a 10-plex and a nine-plex – won’t give up to defeatism, however.

Delgado and husband Juan Heras own a total 32 screns in the Leon, Caceres and Salamanca areas of Spain, The Van Dyck sites obviously benefit from their upscale movie offer in Salamanca, Spain’s most famous university city.

But “Our base is constant work and renovation over 34 years, diversity in our programming, film cycles, presentations by directors, and creating loyal audiences,” Delgado said in Locarno.

There are also rays of sunshine. The Cines Van Dyke, unlike many Spanish exhibitors, has digitalized all its screens. “Digitalization opens news frontiers, access to any event in any corner of the world,” Delgado said. “Evident proof is the huge success of opera programming and that of original and dubbed versions. We have large challenges ahead.”

Elsa Keslassy, Diana Lodderhose and Nick Vivarelli contributed to this article.

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