"We need to move beyond preconceived ideas"
Industry Report: Distribution, Exhibition and Streaming
Bruno Castro • Director, Alvalade Cineclube
The Portuguese professional spoke to us about the situation in his country and the important role played by film clubs in guiding audiences back to cinemas
In partnership with the International Confederation of Arthouse Cinemas (CICAE), we conducted interviews with three of the trainers of the Arthouse Cinema Training 2022, in order to understand how the cinema industry is evolving. Portugal's Alvalade Cineclube director Bruno Castro spoke to us about the situation in Portugal and the important role played by film clubs in guiding audiences back to cinemas.
Cineuropa: You recently participated in the training organised by the CICAE in San Servolo, and you hosted the “design thinking” atelier. What did this atelier consist of? Did you see any interesting projects?
Bruno Castro: It’s hard to have multiple, good ideas. Most of us know this, but what can be done to unlock creativity and to help develop projects from an innovative starting point? As the CICAE genuinely wants to help cinemas and professionals to move on and rethink their projects, the challenge was to facilitate a workshop with trainees in Venice and to help them to move beyond the preconceived ideas and notions which usually block their ability to think outside the box. We went through some exercises together, which gave way to group work and ideas, starting with the notion that all ideas are valuable and progressing to what should we start, stop and continue doing. It was a very practical workshop which involved everyone in order to understand how rethinking a cinema often starts with a fresh approach. The different scenarios the trainees worked on had very interesting outcomes, touching on new approaches for audience development, community engagement and communications. I can only thank the CICAE for the courage they displayed in finding new ways to help professionals overcome their issues and to do something new or in an innovative way.
As a film club manager, how is the film clubs sector faring in Portugal and how do you see things evolving in the coming years?
Film clubs are a part of cinema history in Portugal, as they were fundamental in the resistance against the dictatorship back in the 60s and 70s. After a lengthy period in which the cinema exhibition landscape changed almost entirely, they’re of vital importance once again, mostly because so many multiplexes and arthouse cinemas have closed down in recent decades, and film clubs are now one of the driving forces for non-mainstream exhibition in Portugal. They’re also approaching audiences in new ways; they’re more open to community engagement, which will be crucial in the years to come. Engaging with spectators and presenting a curated approach to film are new, key necessities which make film clubs crucial players in the exhibition game. As commercial operators, cinemas still only deal in premieres and the new releases model, and that’s already proving insufficient in Portugal, especially when we look at art-house cinema. Latest reports show a huge increase in the number of film clubs, which is a sign that things are, in fact, changing.
How do you think cinema-going audiences are evolving after the pandemic, notably in Portugal?
Are we already “after the pandemic”? The performing arts sector saw audiences rushing back to theatres in Portugal, but cinemas are still struggling to convince spectators to return to their auditoriums. There’s probably something about the cinematic experience that makes audiences more fearful. Or there’s an excess of content now, with distributors trying to relieve their backlog of releases and people feeling lost amidst so many options. What frightens us the most is the idea of disconnection: that audiences disconnected from cinemas might be a normal day-to-day reality. They see festivals and events as opportunities not to be missed, but they struggle to find a new rhythm when it comes to regular film screenings. That’s what’s troubling non-mainstream cinema operators: how to re-connect with audiences when their admissions levels are shattered and when the reasons for this are mostly emotional, rather than rational. We all need to think of new ways of reconnecting, in the long term.
There’s talk in many European countries of measures to support the cinema sector and to encourage audiences to return to auditoriums. What do you think of these proposals? What’s happening in Portugal?
Starting with the last question, nothing is happening in Portugal in the cinema sector. There aren’t any measures being discussed (that are public knowledge), and the national film institute seems to be keeping its focus on production or on big events like festivals (if we’re talking about exhibition). But then again, Portugal has one of the most peculiar set-ups when it comes to exhibition: all of its cinemas are owned by distributors, even the art-house ones. The only exceptions are film clubs, and they don’t have their own venues (apart from one particular case in Porto). So, actually, if the authorities really decide they need to look at exhibition, a brave and open discussion should take place about the model that’s currently in place and why (and when, and how) new, independent players should be motivated and supported in order to set up their own projects. But that doesn’t seem to be on the horizon. The level of support the alternative circuit enjoys (which is almost exclusively composed of film clubs) has increased for 2022/2023, but it’s still symbolic. And distribution agents treat art-house players, like film clubs, as if they’re regular commercial entities, charging market fees and hindering curated programs (although the same thing does seem to happen worldwide). On a European level, support systems seem to be pushing towards the networking of cinemas, though still based on a model which prioritises the number of screenings per year or the volume of films screened, in order to deliver financial support (such as with Europa Cinemas, for instance). So, again, we have to ask ourselves: are we really “after the pandemic”? There are no new models under discussion, only tighter budgeting over the coming years. What’s happening during this pandemic should make us all think about new ways of getting films seen and ensuring communities really connect with their cinemas as cultural hubs. We’re a long way away from this, unfortunately.
The Arthouse Cinema Training has been organised by the CICAE. It was realised thanks to the support of Creative Europe MEDIA programme, the CNC – Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée, the FFA - Filmförderungsanstalt and the Direzione Generale del Cinema of the Italian Ministry of Culture.
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