News / The Network Imprimer
The Network - 17/11/2014
9-3 connected cinemas: promoting new screening practices in cinemas - Interview with Boris Spire
At 3 p.m. on Sunday 23 November 2014, audiences of three cinemas in the French department of Seine-Saint-Denis (department 93, to the north and north east of Paris) will get the chance to participate in an original initiative: Critiques en Seine-Saint-Denis [Critics in Seine-Saint-Denis] will see five film critics debate three recent films that are yet to be shown on the big screen. This debate will be held at the cinema Le Trianon in Romainville and will be broadcast live at the Jacques Tati cinema in Tremblay-en-France and at L’Ecran in Saint-Denis (member of Europa Cinemas), as well as on the internet. At the end of the debate the audiences at the three different venues will vote for the film they want to be shown there and then in their cinema. The film screened may be different in each case, depending on the result of the vote at each cinema. The three films in question are Italian production The Wonders by Alice Rohrwacher and French films Return to Ithaca by Laurent Cantet and Timbuktu by Abderrahmane Sissako.
This initiative is part of a new partnership between these three cinemas, known as 9-3 Cinés connectés (9-3 connected cinemas), which has already led to the screening of a series of short films by Antonin Peretjatko in December 2013 as well as Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake series over a weekend in April 2014. The cycle, which is backed by the local authorities in Seine-Saint-Denis as part of their support for innovative digital projects that benefit cinemas, “promotes programming diversity and innovative screening practices in cinemas by bringing together audiences from three different arthouse cinemas that are keen to create new collaborative and community practices with the help of digital technologies and social networks” (press release). The project is set to build on this momentum in 2015, with a particular focus on Bruno Dumont’s mini-series Li’l Quinquin.
We took this opportunity to talk to Boris Spire, exhibitor at L’Ecran in Saint-Denis.
1 – What changes are you seeing in audiences at L’Ecran?
In contrast to the situation a few years ago, there is now no doubt that we are witnessing a genuine renewal of audiences in arthouse cinemas, and this is particularly true at L'Ecran. It is certainly the case for cinemas that saw the advent of digital technology and the proliferation of platforms for viewing films as an opportunity rather than a form of competition that threatened their existence and spelt the end for a certain kind of cinema… In actual fact, the opposite is happening: audiences are evolving and are taking advantage of the unique opportunity that the cinema offers to see films in the dark as part of a shared experience, although this does not stop these same people from also watching films on different screens outside the cinema environment. It seems to me that there is increasing complementarity between the various platforms, which benefits cinemas due to the emotion that people will always feel when they watch a film on the big screen.
2 – How is your programming evolving?
Our programming is changing quite significantly, in particular due to digitisation (and VPFs), but also due to the increasing number of films being released every week. This does not relate so much to the choice of films: we are continuing to focus primarily on arthouse films, innovative works and auteur films, and on showing a wide range of different productions, especially from Europe. The changes relate more to the way the films are supported, particularly the smallest productions. As we have only two screens, we cannot show everything, and we increasingly try to avoid a situation where one film after another dominates the bill. Rather than cramming lots of screenings of the same film into the space of one week, we put films on the bill for two, three or four weeks and spread the screenings out over this period. This allows us to resist phenomena that threaten the diversity of cinema and lead to admissions being concentrated on a small number of titles within the shortest possible time frame. That goes against the approach that we are trying to defend. With this in mind we also need to find common ground with independent distributors who see things in the same way to stop them systematically “flooding screens” with certain films. That no longer makes any sense…
3 – Does cooperating serve a particular purpose in your opinion?
For us it is perfectly clear that collaborating with local associations (of which there is an abundance in Saint-Denis) is an integral part of what we do. It would be completely counter-productive to ignore the many requests we receive to host festivals and community screenings, as well as other proposals to screen films accompanied by meetings. Most of the time these proposals reflect the diversity of the population we are working towards. Part of what gives our cinema its identity is its function as this vibrant meeting place where, thanks to films, people can speak their minds on a host of social issues. From this point of view we are a place where politics – in the noblest sense of the word – takes place. We are often much more successful than the political parties at bringing together a wide range of people at our meetings. I think we make a modest contribution to creating individuals who think and reflect – that is what makes us important as venues.
4 – How does the initiative in collaboration with the Jacques Tati and Le Trianon cinemas fit in with your work?
The experiences we are sharing with these other two cinemas from the department (this will be the third meeting in 2014) allow us to reflect in an innovative way on the possibilities of interacting with our audiences. Thanks to the new technological opportunities offered by digital technology, we can participate, by means of a live broadcast, in a debate between film critics that is taking place in another cinema, and involve our audiences in a shared social experience. What we want to do is bring together audiences, critics and films, while thinking in a light-hearted way about our ability to make our own choices and what we want as audiences. This involves analysing in an amusing way the position that critics occupy today (in the style of French radio programme Le Masque et la Plume – The mask and the quill), thinking about what prompts us to go to see one film or another and, lastly, enabling audiences to participate in a different way. At the end of this critical sparring match, our respective audiences will have to choose the film they want to see by raising their hands. After the screening each cinema will receive a visit from the critic who put forward the best defence of the film shown. This initiative also allows people to think about what is involved in programming and can give us a greater appreciation of what our audiences really want. In these times of budgetary constraints, it is also an opportunity to demonstrate that our cinemas can still come up with plenty of innovative ideas (possibly by joining forces) and that we still have lots to offer our audiences!
Picture: Boris Spire & Tony Gatlif, http://www.lecranstdenis.org/
Jb Selliez, November 2014