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The Network - 07/08/2014

 

Children’s Cinema of the Year in Sweden: Interview with Jens Lanestrand and Louise Leghammar.

 

Jens Lanestrand is the director of Biografcentralen, a professional association of arthouse cinemas in Sweden which last year has set up a competition called Children’s Cinema of the Year (Arets Barnbio). Upon discovering that the first three nominees of 2013 were all members of Europa Cinemas, we wanted to learn more about this initiative. Jens is joined for the interview by Louise Leghammar, who runs the two-screen cinema Röda Kvarn in Helsingborg, the winner of this year.

1. Arets Barnbio celebrated its second edition this year. Tell us how does the competition work and who can participate?

Jens: At first, the audience nominates their favorite cinema on our website  www.barnbio.se .Out of the proposals, a jury made up of a film director, a director of photography and a regional film consultant selects the best three, which we examine closer through their statistics and an individual interview. All three nominated cinemas receive a diploma they can display in their entry hall, and the winner is revealed during the BUFF Festival Award Evening in Malmö. The award of 15 000 SEK (1650 EUR) goes to a cinema who has been successful and innovative in screening art-house films for children and young people. We encourage the winner to use the prize money to visit cinemas which won the Europa Cinemas Award for Best Young Audience Activities over the previous years, to get inspired by their projects.

2. Who are the people behind this project and how did you have the idea to start it?

Jens: I came up with the idea upon realizing that cinemas which screen arthouse children film need to get more appreciation and attention for what they do. Overall the arthouse cinemas in Sweden are doing great work, but it´s still very hard to compete with the multiplexes relying heavily on American animated blockbusters for children. An award can at the same time encourage cinemas to be more creative in order to be nominated and generate positive media coverage and recognition for the nominees.

After deciding to implement this idea, I approached three important organizations in the Swedish film industry: The Swedish Film Directors’ Association, The Swedish Society of Cinematographers, and The Association of Regional Filmfunds. They all agreed to join and support this award with a money prize as well. We also cooperate with BUFF Filmfestival, an important player in the alternative children cinema landscape in Sweden.

3. Louise, Röda Kvarn is the winner of the 2014 competition, but you were also nominated among the first three participants in 2013. Did this have a positive impact on your work towards the Young Audiences?

2014_arets barnbio

Louise: It is definitely an important proof to our young customers that our cinema takes them seriously! A prize like this is of course also helpful when applying for funding, for example from the local authorities. It gives us more credibility. To summarize, it is definitely a recognition of our hard work over a long time and this boosts us to continue!

4. What is the biggest challenge for you in attracting Young Audiences to an arthouse cinema? How do you try to overcome it?

Louise: The challenge we are up against is to convince young people to not automatically choose blockbusters. Our main strategy is to co-operate with other institutions in our town that target children, in order to give our young guests an experience that goes beyond a simple screening while at the same time managing to pool together our marketing efforts and attract more visitors. The municipality’s cultural department and the library are two examples of partnerships. We also try to participate in festivals in town, to increase our visibility.

We pay special attention to our very young visitors. Thinking that we are responsible for giving a 2,5 year-old their first cinema experience – probably a memory they will carry on for a long time – makes us humble. When they come to us, they have their own elevated chair so that we can talk to them directly, hand out their ticket and, of course, for them to choose their candy. They are our main guests, the stars of the show. So when they’re older, they’ll come back!

5. In general, how difficult is it to have access to quality European films for children on the Swedish market?

Jens: I would say that the situation is quite difficult. There is lack of new movies for the children aged 7-13, and especially feature films. This goes for European movies, but also for Swedish ones. A couple of distributors release European children’s’ films in Sweden but it rarely pays off in terms of investment. On the other hand, cinemas have a hard time attracting and holding an audience with only 1-2 new titles/year. It’s kind of a downward spiral.

To try and address this issue we at Biografcentralen have started to develop a low-budget distribution for arthouse children films together with BUFF Filmfestival. We take 2-3 titles each festival and make them available for open and institutional screenings for the cinemas in Sweden. I think this is a question on which Europa Cinemas could to take more action – why not create something like the Europa Cinema Label for children films?

6. Do you have national schemes for cinema education in the country? If yes, how popular are they with cinema exhibitors, and with the young audiences?

Jens: The Swedish Film Institute provides varied pedagogical materials for both art-house and mainstream children films, which teachers can download for free. However, the practical work is done  at the local level. Generally speaking, there has been a decline in school screenings’ attendance over the last 5 years and I think something could be done at the national level to refresh the offer and inspire schools to visit cinemas more often.

Louise:  At a local level, things vary. The municipality in Helsingborg has a person dedicated exclusively to cinema screenings for schools and they are very popular amongst teachers. Unfortunately, our cinema doesn’t have enough screens, since they need more than three screens at a time, which means that the municipality has chosen the biggest cinema in town for their school screenings. Therefore, I can only hope to attract the young cinema audience on their spare time, that is evenings and weekends. No easy job, but great fun. It’s a challenge and I like that. But of course it would be much easier to have a big audience if I could approach teachers directly.

7. Besides the competition, you also organize a conference dedicated to the exchange of best practices in the field of Young Audiences in Sweden. What do you see as being its concrete positive outcome?

Jens: Biografcentralen aims to inspire and help the cinemas to develop and improve their offer for children. Last year we did the first conference on Young Audiences and invited exhibitors at Elektra in Västerås, the venue which had won the Arets Barnbio that year. We were really taken by surprise by the great interest with which it was met: we had over 30 participants and our half-day conference was much too short. This year we recently finished our conference at Röda Kvarn and got together for double the time.  Besides sharing best practices, we also strived to create concrete new collaborations and really urged the exhibitors to think outside the box and to go beyond their comfort zone.

A bunch of examples came out of the different workshops, from children parties at the cinema to opening up the doors of the venue for recreational activities in the afternoon. The exhibitors are great entrepreneurs; the problem is to find time and resources to go from words to action. We agreed at the end of the conference to keep on meeting, set up higher targets and increase our collaboration. It´s great for exhibitors to listen to each other and see that it´s not only their cinema that has a hard time finding its young audiences!

Photo 1 – A young guest at the Röda Kvarn ticket counter
Photo 2 – Jens Lanestrand with the representatives of Röda Kvarn Helsingborg at the award ceremony

 

Interview by Ioana Dragomirescu.