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Activities - 12/12/2014

 

Back from the Sevilla Innovation Lab 2014

 

For its third Audience Development and Innovation Lab in 2014, Europa Cinemas joined forces for the first time with the Sevilla European Film Festival and invited 41 exhibitors from 13 different countries to come together in order to share experiences, explore new release models, discover practical solutions and get inspired during a 4-days seminar entitled “Standing out in the Digital Age”.

After the welcome words by our host José Luis Cienfuegos, Director of the Sevilla Film Festival, Claude-Eric Poiroux, Director of Europa Cinemas and Madeleine Probst, Vice-President of Europa Cinemas and Programme Producer at Watershed Media Centre (Bristol, UK), we moved straight into the heart of matters with a first keynote address by Ivo Andrle, a Czech cinema operator who heads Prague’s 3 cult movie theatres and also acts as a distributor through Aerofilms. Ivo talked about his strategy for getting people of the sofa and into the cinema, with tailored programmes for every stage of their lives – from toddlers accompanied by their mothers to seniors who have their own movie club. They key weapon for cinemas, in his vision, is social experience. “Don’t complain that distributors don’t make their job” he argued addressing the exhibitors, “show them what can be done”. With such an attitude, doubled up by creativity and an unwearying will to keep innovating, no wonder Ivo has been awarded the title of Europa Cinemas Entrepreneur of the Year 2014!

The Sevilla Innovation Lab, headed by Madeleine Probst together with Ivo Andrle and Jon Barrenechea (Project Development Manager, Picturehouse Cinemas, UK), opened its doors for the first time not only to members of the Europa Cinemas network, but also to other European exhibitors, representing both smaller, independent cinemas and large cinema chains. We were happy to welcome a large number of Spanish exhibitors, from both inside and outside the network, at a time when the Spanish cinema industry is going through a difficult phase and working together to find solutions to pressing problems such as the drop in ticket sales, the rise in taxation and the extended closure of venues is more important than ever. The session Making Networks Work showcased two great examples of such collaborations in Spain.

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Pedro Barbadillo from CineCiutat presented CINEARTE, the first network of arthouse cinemas in Spain which had just been formally established and brings together 11 cinemas from all over the country, some of which have been re-opened by groups of citizens who organized themselves in order to save their local cinemas from disappearing. In 7 other Spanish towns such groups are currently working to re-open movie theaters. By joining forces in CINEARTE, they aim to increase the visibility of arthouse cinema and help it reach the full potential of its audience, prevent the closure of even more cinema venues and improve their power of negotiation with other actors such as distributors, investors and public entities.

Better deals through an increased power of negotiation was also what brought together the members of ACEC Cines more than 30 years ago into forming a “hybrid” model of cooperation. With 209 screens which are programmed as a single chain, but divided between 20 individually owned and managed venues, ACEC Cines (represented in Sevilla by Isabel Garcia) is now the 3rd biggest Spanish exhibitor and a clear success-story that proves that unity makes strength! To finish up the session with a case-study from the UK, Jon Barrenechea explained how at Picturehouse they managed to create a commercially sustainable arthouse model, with 21 venues and some 3 more in the making which are not just cinemas, but cosy and attractive meeting places, in the heart of cities.

If difficult market conditions call for cooperation, global changes in the patterns of accessing and consuming film content by the audiences call for innovation and adaptation from the part of exhibitors. This difficult and often controversial topic was tackled in the afternoon session Getting films out in the Digital Era: Innovative Models & Practices. Several pilot projects funded by the European Commission were presented.

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Lucie Girrespoke about theSPIDE project, which brings together distributors, electronic distribution platforms and sales agents, under the coordination of ARP, in an experiment on legal multi-support and multi-territories releases and the opportunities they represent for the circulation of European feature films in the digital era. Dragoslav Zachariev from EuroVoDpresented STREAMS Day&Date, an experiment which gives people the choice to watch a new release in cinemas, on DVD or on Video-on-Demand. Dragoslav argued that cinema exhibitors have to adapt to the digital world because their audience is already in it and admitted that “it’s a struggle for the VOD actors as well, because we have to invent a new world”.

Taking a different, yet equally innovative approach, Rutger Wolfson, the Director of the Rotterdam Film Festival, started by pointing to the fact that most of the films which attract a full house when presented in his festival have a hard time when they are released – if they ever get released. In an effort to better support these films, the idea behind IFFR Live is to transfer some of the “festival atmosphere” in any cinema venue. 5 films screened in the 2015 edition of the festival will be simultaneously visible in cinemas and VOD platforms across Europe which join the programme. The public of these venues will also be able to see and take part in the Q&As through Instagram and Twitter feeds. The experiment, which requires no investment from the exhibitors other than the will to try, was met with great enthusiasm and several participants signed up on the spot!

Finally, Mandy Berry spoke about CINEGI, a platform of content which can help turn any venue into a “cinema”. By giving access to a catalogue of films and wrap-around content (interviews, Q&As), hosted on an easy-to-use platform and an accessible yet high quality format for venues which are not equipped with a digital projector, CINEGI gives you everything you need, as long as you can find the audience for the film. This sounds more like competition than support for movie theatres, but Berry argued that the platform “is not taking the cake away from cinemas, it’s just increasing the size of the cake for everyone”.  The session sparked, as expected, some heated debate, but proved very informative and useful to get a sense of the directions in which cinema exhibition might be heading in the future – or at least the new environment in which it will have to survive.

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If the second day of the workshop was dedicated to large-scale trends and evolutions, the third one focused more on smaller, practical solutions capable of responding to day-to-day challenges of attracting a bigger audience. During the session Brand-Building, Partnerships, Shareability – which was one of the most appreciated by the participants in their feedback – Marco Odasso started by giving some effective insights on how to make better use of social media in order to attract our audience by engaging them, making them interact with our messages and spread them further. Asa Garnert, who works as a communication strategist for the Sarajevo Film Festival among other clients, gave some useful tips on how to better tell our story, not by doing or saying more but by finding the right tone and making use of the resources we already have – why not let your geekiest customer run your Twitter feed for a week, or your festival programmer do your Facebook postings? Two of the participants also took the floor to share successful experiences. Mark Drenth from Concordia in Enschede, The Netherlands, explained how he managed to rise enough public awareness and 25 000 euros in crowd-funding through a social media campaign run essentially not by the cinema staff but by its audience, in order to prevent the closure of the theatre which operated in one of the rooms of the cinema-venue. Wrapping up a great session, Nico Marzano from the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London showed us how he managed to orchestrate a great communication campaign using mainly Twitter and Instagram, attracting interest and conversation with a limited budget and drawing more than 500 people to the retrospective of 4 films of Elio Petri, an Italian filmmaker of the 70s which has been largely (and unjustly) forgotten.

The afternoon session continued with great ideas and projects of the participants, around the theme Live & Experiential Cinema.Ana Seta Pucihar from Kinodvor in Slovenia showed us step by step how she prepared a grandiose release for Grand Budapest Hotel, fully engaging her staff in a fun and eye-catching marketing operation which lead to the film being the 2nd best box office hit of the history of Kinodvor, while Kelly Jeffs from Light House (UK) gave the participants the great opportunity to learn from an event that did not go as well as expected (among others which were successes). Both Kelly and Floris Vandekerchove, whose cinema Studio Skoop in Belgium co-organizes the successful Japan Square Film Fest, stressed the importance of setting up reliable partnerships when organizing events, a strategy which helps minimize the risks for the cinema and maximize the gains in terms of image by attracting specific communities. The session ended with presentation of the screening of 20 000 Days on Earth Live, a hybrid between film and alternative content, by Jon Barrenechea and Madeleine Probst who both showed it in their venues. This sparked an interesting conversation on the rise of alternative content in cinemas, which is, as Jon explained, content with much lower risk than film, but naturally more limited in its diversity.

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As always, we try to keep the Innovation Labs as hands-on and as practical as possible, and what can be more useful than a visit to a local cinema, where participants can reflect on the strong and weak points of the venue and then use the critical exercise when they get back home to their cinemas? The last session, dedicated to place-making, took place in Avenida 5 Cines. A pioneer of films in original version in Sevilla, the cinema is now struggling due to lack of funds for digitization but manages to maintain what Jon Barrenechea called an “impressive, hardcore arthouse programming, the kind you would find in an university town venue in the UK”.

 

 

 

The success of the Sevilla Innovation Lab 2014 proved that sensitive questions, be they macro-economic difficulties or new practices that challenge the traditional release models, can and should be addressed openly with exhibitors and that debate is a healthy and necessary step for finding the best solutions. But beyond information, the seminar was a source of inspiration, which comes mainly from being together in a creative environment. Sometimes a great idea sparks when least expected – like having an actor read subtitles out loud for children’s movies which are not dubbed, mentioned by Elizabeth Taylor-Mead from Phoenix Cinema as a side note to a question, and which became the talk of the seminar. Solutions are often within grasp, if we look at our cinemas with fresh eyes. As Alena Zaoralova (Kino Metropol, Czech Republic), one of the participants, perfectly sums it up “The seminar made me realize that there are some obstacles we all share and have to fight with on daily basis and also that some obstacles are not really obstacles at all”.

 

Ioana Dragomirescu, December 2014

 

Photos from the top: Presentation of group-work results during a workshop / The interior patio at CICUS, where the seminar took place/ Lucie Girre presenting SPIDE/ Q&A after the session Brand-Building, Partnerships, Shareability/ Participants completing an evaluation exercise at Avendida 5 Cines