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Highlights - 09/08/2011


Christiane Schleindl, Federation of Community Cinemas, Germany


2011_Bundesverband kommunale Filmarbeit

The ‘Bundesverband kommunale Filmarbeit’ or German Federation of Community Cinemas has 170 member cinemas which represent 4% of national screens. Some of them are members of Europa Cinemas, like the Filmhaus Nürnberg. Its exhibitor Christiane Schleindl is also the current chairwoman of the federation. We have asked her some questions about the federation’s goals during this period of transition to digital cinema.

How would you define community cinemas like your own cinema, Filmhaus in Nuremberg, and what role do they play within the German exhibition landscape?

Community cinemas are places of film culture for the (multicultural) residents and visitors of a municipality or region. They offer a financially affordable place where the public can meet to discuss the visual arts. They work independently and are not in competition with other commercial arthouse cinemas but enrich the overall offer of cinematic culture. The motto of community cinemas since the eighties has been “to show different films differently”.
Community cinemas have been an essential part of the German cinema landscape for the last forty years. In Germany there are about 170 venues that are listed under this category. Even if they only represent 4% of German screens, their role as ‘cinematic museums’, as venues for festivals, experimental cinema and politically- and socially-committed films from all over the world, as interdisciplinary meeting points, and as ‘schools’ for the eyes, have become indispensable.
They act as public forums on the world’s cultural/social/political developments, as well as promoting regional product and issues. They present film history, mostly curated, in its original version and contextualised within recent developments. They are public venues for premieres of young film makers and audiovisual artists from all over the world and a place for experimenting with new forms of presentation. Socially-, politically- or culturally-committed films are not only screened there but also publicly discussed with experts and other guests. Some community cinemas dispose of film archives, seminar rooms, film libraries, offer film workshops and organise film festivals.
Many of the community cinemas are commercial entities but making a profit is not necessarily their priority. That is why they often depend on public financial support from the municipalities or the regions. The staff ideally consists of film scholars (theorists and historians) and other people with diverse experiences in film and cinema areas. The Filmhaus Nürnberg has become sort of a role model for other community cinemas in Germany. For some of our more expensive film programmes we work together with other German cinemas and film archives. 

You have been the chairwoman of the German federation for community cinemas since 2006. What exactly are the federation objectives and priorities?


The federation has existed over 30 years as a heterogeneous network of community cinemas, festivals, film museums and even other similar European associations. Our federation’s objectives are to exchange curated programmes, to organise ‘film tours’ and international film programmes in cinemas and to advise and procure knowledge about films, cinema and the work of community cinemas. The federation is in contact with the cultural political decision-makers at a regional, federal and European level and represents its members politically, especially on a federal level. We try to bring together groups who work towards the preservation and strengthening of a diverse and independent film culture. The federation has a seat within the FFA (German Federal Film Board) and is founding member of Vision Kino GmbH, which organizes different school cinema activities on a national and regional level.
In terms of information and marketing we have our magazine ‘kinema kommunal’, a regular newsletter a website and publications for seminars, conferences and films in general. Once a year we organise a federal meeting that is open to other associations or arthouse cinemas. It is an opportunity for further education and a forum for discussion about relevant topics concerning future challenges. At the Berlin Film Festival we award the ‘Caligari-Filmpreis’ in association with the Filmdienst magazine and the Berlinale’s International Forum. We also work with AG Kurzfilm (German short-film association) for the organisation of the ‘Deutsche Kurzfilmpreiskinotour’, where prize-winning shorts are shown in different cinemas all over Germany. The federation also organises accreditations for its members for different kinds of film festivals.   
The political focus in the last years was the digital rollout of German cinemas, film heritage and European collaborations. The federation is trying to become a more involved player on the cultural scene and to work closer with European partners.

You mentioned the digital rollout. What is the position of the federation and what is the current situation of German community cinemas regarding the digitisation of screens?

Last year, different groups such as the German arthouse cinemas, the independent distributors, the BKM (Ministry of Culture) and the FFA worked together to create an exemplary digital support model for small and medium-sized cinemas. The federation was also largely involved in that. Nevertheless we have not yet reached all our goals. The digital support model works for half of the community cinemas, those that fulfil the demanded criteria. The future of the other community cinemas is remains unclear. We are convinced that there is a real need for an extra support model that also helps honorary cinema initiatives, student cinemas or small arthouse film-theatres in rural areas. We are planning some projects and political activities on municipal, regional and federal level, but also think there is a need for dialogue and solutions at a European level.
Community cinemas have been experimenting with digital cinemas from the start, but they also realised very early on that European cinema culture might be endangered by the DCI standardisation. The costs of constant technical advancement and the influence of third parties on the programming of European arthouse theatres might harm the independent distributors in German and mean the end of some of the smaller, yet still very important, film theatres. Most of the bigger community cinemas are still working on a dual system (35mm/digital). This means a lot of reconstruction costs and operation expenses, because one of our principles is to show film in their original format, but on the other hand they must be able to show DCI formats when they function as festival cinemas and hold premieres etc.
Another big challenge will be the preservation and presentation of our film heritage in the age of digital cinema. It seems that film heritage is not supposed to play an important role in cinema programming anymore. Licensing companies demand supersized royalties, and film prints of recent films are being destroyed after only six months! Due to financial problems film archives concentrate on archiving, presenting films on the internet, and their restoration. Very often there are simply no digital copies that could be used in cinemas. Even though this is a European-wide problem, there still seems to be no real awareness. We need European dialogue and European solutions for arthouse theatres and community cinemas because we are ‘islands’ that should present film heritage and orientate cinema-goers who might otherwise get lost in the sea of films that can be found on the internet.

Pictures (from top):

- Christiane Schleindl
- Filmhaus Nürnberg
- Kommunales Kino Pforzheim
- Kinoklub am Hirschlachufer Erfurt
- Kulturzentrum Linse Weingarten 

Bastian Sillner, August 2011