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The 20th Europa Cinemas conference identifies exhibition successes and challenges

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- Hundreds of European film professionals discussed industry issues at the event in Bucharest

The 20th Europa Cinemas conference identifies exhibition successes and challenges
One of the panel discussions at the 20th Europa Cinemas conference (© Ionut Dobre)

The 20th Europa Cinemas conference took place over three days (24-26 November) in the Romanian capital, Bucharest. Hundreds of film professionals were invited to discuss industry issues, the successes of and challenges for exhibition, and how the past can help to create a better future for the industry. Bucharest was a perfect choice of venue for the event, as Romania is grappling with one of the trickiest exhibition issues in Europe, with a continuously dwindling number of arthouse cinemas. The country’s only Palme d’Or-winning director, Cristian Mungiu, who is also a distributor and festival organiser, described the situation: “What we call auteur cinema is not very popular, and the numbers are decreasing,” he said, given that an overwhelmingly large number of Romanians prefer Hollywood’s blockbusters to Europe’s more relevant cinema.

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A topic that everyone invited agreed upon was that “the audience is changing, and the experience needs to change to meet that”, as put by SampoMedia consultant Michael Gubbins, one of the event’s moderators, during the Entrepreneurialism and Evolving Cinema Experience panel. One of the roles that cinema needed to adopt in the future, as identified by both Mungiu and Lionello Cerri, the CEO of Milan cinema complex Anteo, who also received the Entrepreneur of the Year Award (see the news), was that it should offer a social experience. Cinemas should not only screen good films, but also extend the experience by offering access to various cultural spaces, such as reading rooms, cafés and places to encourage discussion about the complex experience of cinema.

Another topic that was widely discussed in various panels and workshops was film education and the challenge of convincing very young viewers to watch films in cinemas, as opposed to TV shows produced by industry giants such as Netflix, Amazon and HBO. Mungiu stressed the importance of creating the audience of the future, while Bero Beyer, artistic director of the International Film Festival Rotterdam, showed how the Netherlands’ biggest film event caters to a professional audience without forgetting about the thousands of other cinemagoers of all ages. Beyer also said that it was not necessarily branding, but understanding the narratives that matter to the audience, that was key to successful programming.

As for the challenges, market saturation, insufficient support from distributors, the growing influence of giant corporations and the lack of communication between distributors and exhibitors were identified as perennial issues in the arthouse and independent cinema exhibition landscape.

On the second day of the events, participants could choose from four workshops. One of them, The Community Value of a Cinema, explored how important cinemas are for their community and how they can meet the various needs of the audience. Jaki McDougall, chief executive of Glasgow Film, talked about how her company prepares screenings for people with dementia, those with hearing impairments and those on the autistic spectrum. “We need to think about the people who aren’t included,” McDougall said, stressing the power of cinema to bring people together.

The last event of the conference focused on the steps that need to be taken in the future. “What’s really important is the power of networking, sharing and collaborating, and that’s what Europa Cinemas does,” said Gubbins, describing the unifying force behind the network that started back in 1992 with 106 screens in 45 cinemas, and has now reached 2,684 screens in 1,088 cinemas.

Jon Barrenechea, deputy director of marketing, Picturehouse Cinemas, wondered if the much talked-about innovation of the cinema experience is the key to the future. “Do audiences from other art forms come across to cinema? If they play games or watch opera in your cinema, do they come back for film?” According to him, the answer to a better future for arthouse cinema exhibition resides somewhere else: “We all need to muscle up on our data and use of technology, in a big way, if we’re going to survive.”

Another key aspect identified by the speakers was better communication among the various players involved in the film chain, as a permanent collaboration between production, distribution and exhibition outfits may trigger a greater overall efficiency of the industry and facilitate the provision of enriching experiences to their communities.

ArteKino
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