×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Key Berlin Film Festival Venue Set to Close – or Is It?

The announcement that German exhibitor CineStar would close its multiplex at Berlin’s famed Sony Center in Potsdamer Platz has thrown the cinema’s participation as a key venue for the Berlin Film Festival into doubt. Whether it actually shutters, however, remains to be seen.

British-based Vue International is awaiting approval from German antitrust officials on its €221.8 million ($252.7 million) bid to take over CineStar, which operates 57 sites with 438 screens across the country. Vue already owns rival exhibitor Cinemaxx, which has 30 sites – including its own multiplex in Potsdamer Platz – and 257 screens. A merger would create Germany’s biggest cinema operator by far.

CineStar reportedly told its employees at the Sony Center multiplex in April that it would close the site by year’s end, when its lease is set to expire. The company, which declined to comment for this story, has issued no reason publicly for the closure.

But it informed the organizers of the Berlinale of the move, and the festival is “currently looking into all possible options for 2020,” according to its press office, which declined to comment on possible alternative venues or whether it was definitely excluding the Sony Center CineStar from its future plans.

Along with the Berlinale Palast and Cinemaxx, the CineStar multiplex has long been one of the festival’s main venues at Potsdamer Platz. It also boasts Berlin’s only Imax theater, is the city’s premier English-language cinema, and has become its principal setting for major film premieres thanks to the prime location.

CineStar is said to be renegotiating its lease with the Sony Center. At the same time, the company is also currently involved in tough collective-bargaining talks with Verdi, Germany’s biggest service-sector trade union.

Since March, employees at the Sony Center CineStar have gone on strike 27 times as part of a labor dispute that has seen a total of 65 walkouts at four of Berlin’s six CineStar multiplexes during the same period, Verdi official Joerg Reichel said. Local press reports have speculated that the labor dispute may be a factor in CineStar’s decision to shutter the multiplex, but that view is rejected by Reichel, who sees the move as a negotiating tactic by CineStar to wrest a better rental agreement from the Sony Center.

“As a landlord, you have a problem if you are negotiating a new price and you know your renter is already packing his bags,” Reichel told Variety. “That is more of a concrete threat for a property owner. That’s how we see it. It’s about lowering the rental price as much as possible, and that includes being prepared to move out.”

Oxford Properties Management, which represents Sony Center owner Oxford Properties Group, declined to comment.

Reichel warned that CineStar could be playing “a dangerous game.” “You are risking a lot with the Berlinale and you risk a lot with your employees,” he said. “For CineStar, the employees don’t matter. They are a cost factor. But the Berlinale, that is a cultural and political matter, and it’s highly perilous to risk the Berlinale actually pulling out. If the Berlinale finds a better and more attractive venue, then what?”

Reichel believes that CineStar will ultimately reach an agreement with the Sony Center and keep its multiplex open. “The Sony Center can only function economically as an event location,” he said. “You could replace the cinema with offices and restaurants, but then the location would be empty, plain and simple. No one would go there anymore.”

Reichel said that a merger of Cinemaxx and CineStar would allow their owner, Vue, to lower overall costs and operate more efficiently through economies of scale. With more than 80 multiplexes and thousands of seats, the company would be in a stronger position to negotiate better discounts from suppliers, he said.

Observers see a possible problem for film distributors, who, like other suppliers, may soon be dealing with a major exhibitor with the power to dictate prices.

Nevertheless, Germany’s antitrust authority, the Kartellamt, is expected to greenlight the merger. Approval would likely speed up not only CineStar’s lease negotiations with the Sony Center but also its collective-bargaining talks with Verdi. The union is demanding an increase in CineStar’s entry-level positions from the current minimum wage of €9.19 ($10.47) an hour to €11.00 ($12.53) – significantly more than CineStar’s current offer of €9.50 ($10.82).

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Issa Rae Portrait

    Issa Rae Developing Remake of Crime Thriller 'Set It Off'

    “Insecure” star and co-creator Issa Rae is in early development on a remake of New Line’s crime thriller “Set If Off,” which starred Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Vivica Fox and Kimberly Elise. Rae will produce with plans to star in the remake. Syreeta Singleton and Nina Gloster have been hired to pen the script. [...]

  • Thomas Golubic8th Annual Guild of Music

    Guild of Music Supervisors President: 'The Economics of the Job Don't Work Anymore'

    The Guild of Music Supervisors (GMS) hosted its 5th annual “State of Music in Media” conference on Saturday, Sept. 15, at the Los Angeles Film School. Featuring a wide array of panel discussions on all manner of issues related to music in film, television and advertising, the confab drew top composers, music supervisors, licensing and [...]

  • Gay Chorus Deep South

    Film News Roundup: Documentary 'Gay Chorus Deep South' Bought for Awards Season Release

    In today’s film news roundup, the documentaries “Gay Chorus Deep South” and “Tread” find homes, Tobin Bell’s latest horror film completes production and Emilio Insolera joins “355.” ACQUISITIONS MTV Documentary Films has acquired “Gay Chorus Deep South” for release during the fall for awards season consideration. Related Berlin Silver Bear Winner Angela Schanelec Preps Latest [...]

  • Bad Education

    What 'Bad Education' Taught Us About the Slow Toronto Film Festival Market

    “Bad Education,” a dramedy starring Hugh Jackman as the embezzling superintendent of district of schools in Long Island, N.Y., was set to be this year’s “I, Tonya.” The movie has the same biting tone, shifting between comedy and tragedy. It received strong reviews out of the Toronto Film Festival. And like “I, Tonya,” it even [...]

  • For web story

    Toronto: Sony Pictures Classics Buys 'The Burnt Orange Heresy' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sony Pictures Classics has nabbed the rights to “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” Variety has learned. The indie label plans to release the film in 2020. The Italian-American thriller was directed by Giuseppe Capotondi and stars Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debicki, Mick Jagger, and Donald Sutherland. Scott Smith adapted Charles Willeford’s novel of the same name, transporting [...]

  • Thomasin McKenzie and Essie Davis

    Thomasin McKenzie and Essie Davis to Star in 'Justice of Bunny King'

    Essie Davis, star of “The Babadook” and autumn festival hit “Babyteeth,” and “Jojo Rabbit” co-star Thomasin McKenzie will headline upcoming drama “The Justice of Bunny King.” The film, now shooting in New Zealand, is a triumph over adversity tale about women fighting their way back from the bottom of society. It is the debut feature [...]

  • Calm With Horses

    Nick Rowland Talks About Toronto Debut Film 'Calm With Horses'

    “Calm with Horses,” which made its world premiere in Toronto’s TIFF in the Discovery section, is the feature directorial debut of Nick Rowland (Amazon series “Ripper Street”), and stars Barry Keoghan (Marvel’s upcoming “The Eternals,” “Dunkirk”), Cosmo Jarvis (“Annihilation”), and Niamh Algar (BBC’s “The Virtues”). The script, which was adapted from Colin Barrett’s short story [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content