Strengthening the exhibition sector in South-East Europe
by Vladan Petkovic
- The first panel of Sarajevo's Regional Forum tackled exhibition and raising awareness of European films in South-East Europe
The Sarajevo Film Festival's Regional Forum started on 20 August with a panel entitled "Cinema Exhibition Sector: Opportunities and Challenges in South-East Europe". Held for the first time as a European Forum, under the auspices of the European Commission, whose previous events of this type took place at the Berlinale and the Cannes Film Festival this year, the session tackled issues such as the state of exhibition in South-East Europe and its position in the value chain of European films, the expectations and appetite of the audiences, and potential future developments.
Opened by SFF director Miro Purivatra and the programme manager of Creative Europe-MEDIA, Dag Asbjornsen, the panel was composed of Christof Papousek of the Austrian chain Cineplexx, Claudia Droc from Europa Cinemas, Hrvoje Laurenta, director of Kino Europa Zagreb and head of the Croatian Network of Independent Cinemas, Giovanni Dolci of IMAX, and Jan Runge, CEO of UNIC (the International Union of Cinemas).
Runge first gave an overview of the state of the exhibition sector in Europe, which, as he said, "has overtaken the US, accounting for 28% of the world box office". The US now has a share of 26%.
"We saw tremendous growth over last year across Europe – 22% in France, 17% in the Czech Republic and Turkey. But it's not great everywhere."
The average number of times a person visits the cinema per year in South-East Europe is 1.6, while the EU average is 2.0. Runge said that as an exhibitors' association, UNIC "believes that it can be improved by developing more cinemas".
Droc presented a study by Europa Cinemas entitled “How to Improve Access to Cinemas in Countries Where They Are Poorly Represented?”, which was conducted in Romania and Bulgaria in 2014 and 2015. Both countries have been increasingly multiplexing since 2000, and now 85% of Bulgarian screens are located in such venues, while the proportion in Romania is 75%. Theatres in the Europa Cinemas network represent only 4% in Bulgaria and 6% in Romania.
The conversation then shifted away from figures towards the role that multiplexes can play in attracting audiences to watch European and local films. While their number in Western Europe is stagnating, in the south-eastern part of the continent it is constantly rising. Multiplexes are also differentiating their content, and European films can play a strong role in this department.
While the number of local and European films in theatres is still low in South-East Europe, "we want to bet on multiplexes because they can, and should, be stepping stones for European films, and they represent a certainty for exhibitors", said Droc. "Over 60% of admissions for The Great Beauty [+see also:
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Austrian-based multiplex chain Cineplexx, which has a strong presence in South-East Europe, is one of the operators with a strong commitment to European film. Papousek said that, after building 11 venues in Vienna from 1999-2003, the city was over-screened, and they changed the programming of one of their sites. "Now it has half a million admissions a year, and more than 40% of the films it shows are European and Austrian. This is a strong sign that European films can work in a multiplex."
Papousek sees big potential in the region, but warns that they have to be careful and consider people's purchasing power. In Serbia, Cineplexx runs three multiplexes, two of which are in Belgrade, a city of 1.7 million inhabitants. "I am convinced that there is room in the region for ten more multiplexes, but not ten-screen ones – rather five- to six-screen cineplexes."
While it is technological innovation and the immersive experience that drive people to cinemas, with which both Papousek and Dolci agreed, Laurenta argued that as an arthouse theatre, Kino Europa would rather invest in content that adds essential value to films they screen.
"Independent cinemas have become small cultural centres that work from morning to late at night," he said. "We are trying to bring the talent and cast from a film every time we can, or a film critic who can announce the film and talk to the audience afterwards. For children, we sometimes hire an artist who will animate the kids and help them understand the point of the film by, for instance, having them draw their view of a character or theme.
"Europa Cinemas, UNIC and the European Commission should support independent cinemas even more. But I'd be happy if we and multiplexes could raise awareness of European cinema together."