San Sebastián analyses distribution in a post-pandemic and post-Barbenheimer Europe
- European distributors zoom in on the possible ways there are to keep bringing audiences back to the cinemas after this summer’s worldwide phenomenon
Once again this year, the San Sebastián International Film Festival has invited professionals from all over Europe to bring their perspectives to the distribution and exhibition business – and of course, the elephant in the room was under discussion. Is it possible for European distributors and exhibitors to mimic a huge success like Barbenheimer? If not, is it possible to learn from it and try to make the most of it? The worldwide phenomenon of the combined release of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer [+see also:
film profile], respectively distributed by US companies Warner and Universal, is something we can learn lessons from, and it's something to celebrate even for European films: for the first time after the pandemic, all kinds of audiences have rediscovered the pleasure of going to the theatres.
“When we opened the door after the pandemic, the audiences came back immediately, but we were really complaining about the lack of good films. It was not until the first half of this year that it became successful for us again, and right now, because of Barbenheimer, we’re very happy with the attendance levels,” explained Maria Magdalena Gierat, CEO of Krakow's Kino Pod Baranami, and also secretary of Europa Cinemas. “If you experience a good success, then there is traction and other films will work better. In France, Barbenheimer has probably led to the success of Quentin Dupieux’s Yannick [+see also:
film profile], which got to the amazing number of 500,000 admissions,” added Gaumont Cinemas director of distribution Ariane Toscan du Plantier.
“Barbenheimer was a huge phenomenon, but in Europe, we can’t play in the same league,” explained Enrique Costa, founder of Spain’s Elastica Films. “The budgets are not big enough to compete with that kind of film, but this business can’t exist without the big blockbusters. I’m not super happy about the lack of space they have left for European independent films, but that's what the situation is like,” added Eduardo Escudero, founder of Spain’s A Contracorriente Films and also co-president of Europa Distribution.
Still, professionals think there might be better news soon. In Escudero's view, “There has been a 30% increase in the box office until September this year, with respect to 2022, so we’re optimistic. The patient is still in the hospital, but it was in intensive care, and now it’s on the ward.” For Toscan du Plantier, “The habit of going to the theatre was lost during the pandemic, so we have to try to recover that as much as we can. In fact, this year, regarding French films, we’re getting to almost the same figures we had before the pandemic.” Costa pointed out the incredible success of Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or winner Anatomy of a Fall [+see also:
interview: Justine Triet
film profile], which has already got to one million admissions in France in only one month: “This proves that European independent films can make it to those heights.”
While it is important to find films that people want to see, all of the initiatives carried out to strengthen the bond between viewers and theatres are welcome. “Working closely with the theatres brings good news and, sometimes, unexpected successes,” added Costa, who also discussed initiatives like the Spanish government’s price reduction for senior citizens: “Subsidising the audience instead of subsidising the professionals is a great idea.” Gierat explained some of the strategies their cinema is developing: “We host discussions with senior citizens, late-night discussions with students, meetings and talks about many films, and visits by filmmakers. We think that after the pandemic, the need to talk in cinemas is bigger. Our biggest fear was, will the youngest ones forget about cinema? We are working with schools, not necessarily involving teachers, through the ‘Young Ambassadors’ initiative, and even ‘pyjama parties’ (screening films during the night, until early morning, including a quiz and breakfast).”
However, consensus was reached at the level of the exhibition windows and how to protect themselves from the direct-to-VoD strategy. “We need to protect the theatre window as much as we can because most of our income comes from it,” Costa added. “We just think starting with the theatre is the only way to give real value to a film, and we will continue working in this direction,” confirmed Toscan du Plantier.
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