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Activities - 06/05/2014

 

Report on Sofia Seminar 2014 - New approaches with new audiences in the digital era

 

With its launch of a new meeting in the Bulgarian capital last March, Europa Cinemas has extended its activities to develop new audiences at network film theatres. Based on the enormous success of the Bologna Seminar, whose last nine events were attended by nearly 200 participants, Europa Cinemas organised these meetings within the setting of the hugely popular Sofia International Film Festival, with the intention of paying particular attention to professionals in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

The seminar, entitled ‘New approaches with new audiences in the digital era’, was attended by around 30 professionals from 17 countries, and focussed on the following subjects: strategies on programming and partnerships to target new audiences; the use of social networks to promote cinemas and films to young internet users; the application of marketing strategies set up in other sectors; training of film theatre staff in the use of new technologies; and the use of film theatres for new content.

While digital transition has now been achieved by the great majority of our members, it is essential that we exploit the opportunities offered by new technologies in order to diversify our audiences and capture their attention. In order to apply a collective approach to these essential issues, the participants discussed the challenges and obstacles they themselves face. And many of them believe that their strength lies in shrewd film theatre programmes, offering an innovative and diversified range.

However, many also feel that lack of space and having to make do with buildings that are either old or not originally designed for use as a cinema represent a permanent challenge. This led us to consider how to incorporate a location, a façade, in a town or a community. That was our question when we visited Euro Cinema, one of the network's three members in Sofia, the fourth member being in Varna. This exercise allowed exhibitors to evaluate their own site, considering the prospects offered by their own space, and the general question of building layout. And why not ask filmgoers their views? We assessed the importance of mechanisms allowing the audience to take ownership of the space. In Gothenburg, Roy cinema greeted filmgoers with a banquet to bring an air of sophistication to a screening of The Great Beauty. At Aventure cinema in Brussels, staff are used to giving an attentive welcome to filmgoers as they enter, offering coffee to adults and sweets to children, to turn their journey through the lifeless shopping centre in which the film theatre is located into a positive experience.

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In addition to these approaches that foster greater communication with the audience, we should also consider the role of the film theatre in its own locality. Of course, working in partnership with local organisations should attract a new community of filmgoers. That could be the key to extending what is on offer and making new content available. This is demonstrated by the experience of the Malmö Arab Film Festival whereby the partner film theatre was able to kindle audience demand for previously unknown films. In Milan, spazioCinema received the support of the largest Italian distribution company of cultural products to offer a twice-monthly programme of documentary films. The films, after being screened in the film theatre, are released on DVD with an accompanying book. Thus films which would not have benefited previously from commercial distribution have become the focus of events and activities for two evenings a month.

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The films are now widely available so consideration must be given to the film’s experience in the cinema. We were given a presentation on the Naslepo project, initiated by Kino Aero in Prague and extended by Central film theatre in Hradec Králové, which consists of scheduling a surprise film. Filmgoers enter the film theatre ‘blind’ and only find out the name of the film once they are plunged into darkness. After the screening, they themselves determine the price they will pay for the ticket. The experiment revealed a greater link between the film theatre and the audience. We also looked at the importance of the immersive nature of the cinematographic experience with examples from the Modernissimo film theatre in Naples: from the participative nature of a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show to the success of subtitled original version screenings in a market where dubbing is predominant.

After a second day entirely devoted to social experience, we considered in greater depth questions related to content. A joint workshop with around twenty members of Europa Distribution provided the ideal opportunity to identify new models capable of meeting the expectations of a new generation of film enthusiasts. We stressed the importance of new tools and noted that distributors have begun to place their films on the internet. Therefore it is important that exhibitors and distributors work together closely to optimise the impact of events and take turns in viral campaigns on the internet. Here, we are not talking just about audiences but about communities. In order to involve future generations from the earliest age it is also essential that distributors work with film theatres on questions of film education and that they work with educational establishments. Finally, the last point covered by participants concerned admission prices and possible policies on tariffs. From the unlimited set of choices in France to the various loyalty schemes, exhibitors and distributors considered together the value of the film, particularly from the point of view of a young person, for whom the price of a film may be difficult to justify. To conclude, we recalled the importance of the idea of sharing, several professionals present having expressed disappointment at the lack of joint work on communication, visual supports and viral marketing.

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Following discussions with distributors, the exhibitors considered working on the release of a film without a distributor, taking inspiration from the example of the Swedish release of Pablo Larraín's film No. The presentation of initiatives to reinvigorate content and what is on offer showed once again the dynamism and quality of cultural and social commitment on the part of network cinemas. In Ireland, the mini-network Access, through its Zoom programme, has managed to attract a teenage audience of 15 to 18 year olds – considered elusive – with diversified supply based on exacting international films. We also assessed the methods used by De Keizer film theatre in Deventer, the Netherlands, to involve the youngest children through the Fantastic Children’s Film Festival, an itinerant event combining workshops introducing the image with original cookery classes.

The experience of three days rich in education, during which participants were able to consider their own methods and knowledge through practical and productive workshops, confirms the key role of the film theatre as a social vector. And given the plethora of platforms and ways of seeing films, it is also opportune to consider the immersive experience of the big screen, to see it as providing real added value, while bearing in mind that the name of the film theatre is a brand to be defended locally, but also on a broader level through the support of social networks and web 2.0. Creation and communication will promote dialogue with the audience: today’s audiences who must remain loyal and tomorrow’s filmgoers who must be cultivated at every moment through a link between creativity, film education and new technologies.

 

Lucas Varone, May 2014

Pictures, from top: Madeleine Probst, Claude-Eric Poiroux, Mira Staleva, Donatella Miceli

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