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Activities - 30/08/2016


An interview with Duncan Carson from The Independent Cinema Office


The Sarajevo Film Festivalin collaboration with Europa Cinemas organized two weeks ago a special Audience Development & Innovation Day Lab in Sarajevo for exhibitors from the Balkans. Taking place on 18 - 19 August during the festival, the workshop was led by Europa Cinemas exhibitor Duncan Carson from TheIndependent Cinema Office(ICO) and focused on programming, marketing and social media.


“We need to provide compelling reasons for people to attend cinemas beyond the content we’re showing.”


The ICO:

In a few words, what are the objectives of The ICO?

The Independent Cinema Office aims to create an open, thriving and challenging film culture in the UK. We believe that everyone should have access to cinema that nourishes the soul and changes lives. We move towards these goals by providing programming services, training and professional development, consultancy, advice and distribution. 



What have you learned during this Lab in Sarajevo? What were the main themes? 

I learned a lot! I heard a lot of things that resonated with our successes and challenges in the UK in terms of continuing to engage young people and expanding what the cinema can offer. In terms of the themes, I’d recommend taking a glance at the presentations here:

More generally, what are your views on cinema theaters of Central and Eastern Europe, particularly regarding the Croatian and Bosnian markets?

Looking at box office returns, it’s clear that Hollywood films (and blockbusters specifically) have dominated in the region, but there are clearly cinemas operating successfully to offset that and provide a genuine alternative. There’s also encouraging signs that films like The High Sun can reap rewards when they speak to regional experiences. The types of venues in the region that show the kind of programming we advocate for (regional, documentary, world cinema, experimental and expanded cinema) map closely to the UK landscape: cultural centres, independent publicly supported spaces and community spaces, as well as full time cinemas. There are some cinemas I would be delighted to be in the vicinity of (strongly considering a move to Rijeka to be closer to Art Kino for example!).  

What should be done for cinema theaters in those countries?

Changing audience tastes is not an overnight process. It requires commitment from venues and a long-term strategy, and genuine support from across the industry. While there are other approaches, public funding is very important in encouraging interventions that help all parts of the film business. Without cinemas showing regional films, production cannot continue and vice versa.  Public money can incentivize and give the kind of opportunity needed to try new approaches and develop best practice.

Are you satisfied with the exchange with the participants? Are you going to stay in touch with them?

I’ve already been in touch with some participants about developing relationships and sharing knowledge and experience. There are lots that’s being achieved in the Balkans that we could learn from in the UK.



What is the situation of arthouse cinemas in the UK? Do you think distributors are in trouble and what is the position of cinema theaters with the offer of recent movies?

Distributors are adjusting to new models and independents are the least sheltered from the ‘pathfinding’ necessary when the world changes. We were very saddened by the demise of Metrodome. Besides being excellent colleagues, the material they released was a lifeline to some of the world’s best and most challenging material. Would we have seen Tangerine, The Falling, Evolution and The Tribe supported so intelligently and fulsomely without them? We need people like this in the industry. So on that score, it’s a big concern. On the other hand we’ve seen an increase in the number of venues showing films. We added 100 new venues to our database in the 2015 financial year and the take up for the films that we distribute (none of them sure fire commercial wins) is increasing all the time. The take up we have with our training and professional development suggests this is an area people are thirsty for and see big benefits from, so we want to do even more of this to help them grow.

Is there a lack of interest from the audience, in the UK, for foreign language films?

Definitely not. There is some gloom around the fact that no foreign language film hit £1,000,000 box office last year (excluding Bollywood titles, which is a significant and growing audience which shouldn’t be discounted). UK audiences have historically been more resistant to subtitling (since we share a common language with the United States, and therefore Hollywood). There’s also a general problem in what used to be the vanguard of independent programming squeezing out foreign language films in order to support ‘reliable’ studio product. But audiences are engaged with foreign language films; they’re just consuming them in different ways and in different venues (community cinemas are an undervalued source of strong British and foreign language programming that is not recorded by the current methods). 



Do you think arthouse cinemas in European countries share common needs?

Certainly. The success of Europa Cinemas itself is an endorsement of the need for a communal approach to the future of cinema. One of the things that new media companies are ‘discovering’ as they roll out across 100+ countries is that taste is not always predicated on regional culture and interest, but on broader areas of preference and commonalities. In the world of cinema, we have known this for years and there are occasionally those films that go across borders to emphasize the point.  Our goal should be to find robust means to support those areas where common actions can support those common needs.

To what extent do you think digital cinema has been a chance for art cinemas / independent cinemas?

Digital cinema has certainly increased the diversity of material on screen and reduced the barriers to entry for smaller players. However, availability is not always the panacea it’s made out to be, and we need to provide compelling reasons for people to attend cinemas beyond the content we’re showing.  

What would be the major challenge for the coming years?

The challenge is as it ever was: to encourage people to see the cinema as the place to have transformative experiences. The breadth of people’s tastes isn’t shrinking in the digital age: it’s expanding. So how can we as cinemas help guide people’s enthusiasm and interest?


Jean-Baptiste Selliez, August 2016