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Activities - 24/07/2014


Back from Bologna 2014 Innovation Lab


For its 10th edition in Bologna, the Europa Cinemas Audience Development Innovation Lab brought together 30 participants from 16 different countries to share their experiences, reflect together on practical solutions and get inspired on how to better attract and gain the loyalty of their public, especially the ever-eluding young generations.

Placed this year under the theme “New Challenger & Approaches with New Audiences”, the seminar kicked off with a conversation between Gian Luca Farinelli, our host and the Director of Cineteca di Bologna, and sommelier turned filmmaker Jonathan Nossiter. In his freshly-released documentary Natural Resistance, Nossiter draws an interesting parallel between the world of wine-makers and that of arthouse cinema, arguing that courage, and independent spirit, creativity and a genuine passion for wine (or movies) provide a stronghold against the commercial production, increasingly dominant in both sectors. “The fact that 80% of wine is produced in Hollywood-style”, Nossiter argued, “makes the rest even more precious” and this certainly holds for cinema as well. The crucial point is to be able to turn the independent status into an appealing brand and create the level of trust and loyalty that makes the public follow you.

Workshop leaders Madeleine Probst (Watershed, UK) and Mathias Holtz (Folkets Hus och Parker, Sweden) urged participants to get out of their comfort zone and dare to bring forth not only their strong points, but also the weaknesses of their venues, so that possible solutions can be found collectively. Among the challenges mentioned by most participants was the difficulty to attract young audiences, especially teenagers, but also the fact that their physical venues were either not ideally situated in the city or not capable of reflecting their desired identity and innovative programming.

The second day allowed us to start addressing these issues. First, Neil McGlone together with Mark Cosgrove presented a unique project that celebrates childhood and its depiction in both classic and unknown heritage films from across the world, A Story of Children and Film (Mark Cousins). The participants then reflected on a film they were influenced by as children and the way they could pitch it today to the young generation. It became clear that children should not be underestimated as audiences, but rather be exposed to quality, emotionally-intelligent films from the very beginning, so that they can develop a taste for higher-standard cinema.

We then moved on to explore the relation between cinema and its community. Mathias Holtz explained his “cradle-to-grave” approach, by which the Roy cinema in Göteborg strives to provide content adapted to the needs of each age group. Working together with other cultural institutions of the community and using children and teenagers as ambassadors towards their peers can also prove a recipe for success, as shown by the experience of Branko Krsmanovic from Kupina Film in Nis, Serbia, who managed to increase young audiences by a third over the first semester of the project.

Looking into new ways to link content and context together, Nick Varley, Director of the British distribution company Park Circus, explained that a good way to programme classic film is to choose  a time where it doesn’t keep you from showing more recent movies, and make it a regular event – much like a book club. Kino Aero in Prague sometimes goes out of its way to create the perfect context, turning screenings into special events, with a surprise location (like a high voltage laboratory for a screening of Metropolis) or a surprise menu (like Indian dishes served out of food containers delivered on bikes after the screening of The Lunchbox).  Marco Villotta from Cinema Visionario took us through a rollercoaster of creative ideas, from traffic signs to surprising ticket design and to comic trailers which convince over 50 000 people every year to attend the Far East Film Festival (now at its 16th edition) and watch popular Asian films…in Udine, Italy. His motto? “Authentic, hands-free, no safety”.


The third day of the seminar focused on spaces&places, one of the main challenges our participants said to encounter in their own venues. We started with the visit of a very concrete space: the Multisala Odeon, the first multi-screen cinema in Bologna and a landmark for arthouse lovers of the city, which influenced the development of the whole neighborhood. Participants were invited to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the venue as if they were a visitor, and keep the same fresh and critical eye when going back to their own cinemas. Moving on to case studies, Madeleine Probst explained how Watershed, a former abandoned warehouse, became a venue that is perceived as not only a cinema, but a multifunctional creative space that people use for very different reasons, including its café-bar or free Wi-Fi connection. This is in line with Watershed’s ambition to nourish creative collaborations, producing works that cut across film, theatre, music, design and the technology sectors. A similar connection between cinema and other forms of art is encouraged at Cinema Visionario in Udine. Recreating the interior of the cinema with small but very effective changes – like painting some of the walls in black or  covering the entrance with a huge graffiti by a local artist who had exhibited inside the cinema – helps build a recognizable, attractive and dynamic brand for the cinema.

Finally, if both Watershed and Cinema Visionario have to be creative with their spaces because they function inside protected buildings, Cinemobile in Ireland has a whole different set of constraints. A truck which converts into a 100-seat screening room within hours, this mobile cinema has reached more than 12 300 children through school screenings last year. Muffin Hix from The Lost Picture Show closed the session with a keynote on the seemingly endless possible spaces for pop-up cinema events, encouraging participants to use the “pop-up mindset” to rethink their spaces and create special experiences inside and outside their venues.


Developing an audience among the young generations involves an investment in film education activities from cinemas. Several ideas and best practices from across Europe were presented in the beginning of the third day. Cineteca di Bologna’s Schermi e Lavagne programme brought in some innovative ideas for school screenings, such as using silent movies to connect young children with hearing imparities with their peers and communicate in this new way, and underlined the crucial role of a very close relation with the teachers, based on personal contact and trust. The experience of Casablanca Filmtheater in Nuremberg, Germany confirms this. For their film club targeting children in the neighbourhood, word-to-mouth, talking to parents and engaging directly with the community proved much more successful than advertising or standard one-way communication. Using films as the starting point of a direct conversation with their public is something Watershed strives to achieve, and it works not only through social media and Q&As but also through very simple ideas such as putting up a board with post-its where people can write their impressions about the film.

A simple yet very effective idea came from Florence Guillaume at Cinema Landowski in France: educate children about the difference of seeing a film on the computer, TV or smartphone screen and in the cinema by projecting the same film extract in the respective formats and quality, and then discussing together their impressions. Another aspect of film education – for young and old this time - is the way in which film reflects the reality and influences our perceptions of it. The place and depiction of women in movies is the focus of the A-rating campaign initiated by four independent cinemas of the Folkets Hus och Parker network in Sweden, which raised a surprisingly important media attention across the world. The A-rating aims to point out to the viewer that the majority of films of all genres do not pass the simple Bechdel Test - show at least two female characters with names, who speak to each other about something other than a man. Becoming aware of this is important especially since research has shown that girls reduce their dreams and expectations of future careers when reaching adolescence, because of lack of role models in film&TV content.

Finally, we focused on renewing our approaches to online curation and editorial. An inspirational keynote address by Anthony Thornton, Head of Digital Content at the BFI, explained how online communication should always take as a starting point the way the audience thinks and be articulated around the 4Cs: connection, conversation, consultation and collaboration. “You don’t need a big website” added Anthony, “you need big ideas”. This fact is perfectly illustrated by the “I am Dora” series, organized by Jemma Desai around unknown repertory movies. This personal project started as a blog and managed, essentially through clever use of social media and curated content which placed online, to sell out screenings for an entire week for a 1978 movies called Girlfriends, by Claudia Weill. On a bigger scale, but also based on creative content for the contextualization of films, we discovered the EXPOSED project of EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam. It links relevant content on an online platform with exhibitions and events around film happening in the EYE, creating a community of young culture lovers around it.

On the last morning, before rushing to catch our flights back home, Mark Cosgrove from Watershed helped us reflect on film canons, based on a personal all-time Top Ten made by each participant. Why do some films disappear from film canons and, more interestingly, what makes them come back? The packed screenings of restored classics which we had the chance to attend during the seminar as part of the festival Il Cinema Ritrovato certainly provided some inspiring ideas. As Koen van Daele from Kinodvor in Ljubljana had pointed out a couple of days before, speaking about why some films shouldn’t be seen anywhere else but on the wide screen, a diverse offer of activities and formats is important in driving audiences to the cinema, but quality content remains the ultimate key.


Looking back at this very rich 10th edition of the Bologna Innovation Lab, creativity and innovation in the form of small (or not so small) ideas that can bring about big results has been the guiding thread of our sessions. The key to attracting new audiences and to keeping those we already have coming back for more is on the one hand listening to what they want, creating a space for real conversation rather than just an output of information, online and offline. On the other hand, we should not be afraid to surprise audiences with original ideas, even if this involves occasionally going beyond the traditional mission of a cinema, outside its normal space or blurring the lines between film and other art forms. It may seem a “hands-free, no safety” approach, but concrete examples from cinema managers and programmers from all over Europe and beyond have provided a lot of inspiration and have shown that the way to go is start small…but think big.


groupe fin


Ioana Dragomirescu, July 2014

Photos from top to bottom: Participants on the opening session, Marco Villotta from Cinema Visionario, Elisa Giovannelli from Cineteca di Bologna, Group Photo before departure.