News / The Network

 

The Network - 13/09/2009

 

Czech Republic – Digital Day with Europa Cinemas at Uherské Hradiste

 

Encouraging network cinemas to develop joint projects relating to promotional activities and programming as well as discussions with the emphasis on digital issues: this is the aim of a new initiative from Europa Cinemas implemented this year. The first phase of this work has just taken place at Uherské Hradiste in the Czech Republic, bringing together around thirty professionals with the focus on equipment and distribution in 2K digital. 

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The Summer Film School, taking place there every year, is an annual gathering for film club members in the Czech Republic and is open to professionals and the public. For the past 35 years, it has been one of this country’s main cinematographic events, organised around the Hvezda cinema, Europa Cinemas network member. Between 24 July and 2 August, hundreds of film enthusiasts and above all professionals from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Austria and Hungary came together at the event. Europa Cinemas contributed to the organisation of the day dedicated to digital.

This event made it possible to review several general questions: Petr Vitek expert at the European Commission described current developments in the digital network and its goals. Mirek Sochor, DCI expert (Digital Cinema Initiatives) presented 3D cinema. The audiences were also able to see a 3D screening.

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In the afternoon, a succession of professionals from several Central and Eastern European countries outlined the current state of cinema digitalization in their respective countries:

- Maciej Gil, representative from the Association of Polish Film Clubs, pointed out that in 2008 the Polish Film Institute, the Ministry of Culture, the Association of Filmmakers and the Film Chamber of Commerce implemented a programme of cinema digitisation with the aim of financing 360 cinemas. Unfortunately, the economic crisis, along with a number of technical related problems, impacted heavily on the programme’s ambitions: the current figure stands at around 80 cinemas. Today, approximately twelve cinemas are digitally equipped in the country (mainly multiplexes). He also pointed out that the size of the projection rooms did not always make it possible to place two projectors for 35 mm and 2K side by side. Finally, he emphasised the low number of films available in digital among the distributors.

- Peter Dubecky, director of the Slovak Film Institute said that one cinema is in the process of going digital in this country thanks to private and public funds, namely the Kultura cinema in Ruzomberok, a Europa Cinemas member. Whilst the Slovak Film Institute has implemented a fund worth SK 1 billion, it is solely for digitisation of archives. At the moment therefore there is no national programme in place to finance the move to digital in the cinemas.

- Rita Linda Potyondi, exhibitor and distributor (Cirko Film Maskepp Foundation), set out the situation in Hungary. No single project financing digital on a national scale has yet been a success. Forty cinemas had already been equipped with 1.3 K beforehand with the support of the State (50% of €10,000 per digital projector) but this equipment is no longer appropriate.
As distributor of feature film DELTA, Rita Linda Potyondi explained that the release of this film in digital was as costly as the release in 35 mm because too few cinemas are equipped and so there is no economy of scale. In Budapest, two independent cinemas have been equipped. She rounded off by focusing on the alarming situation in Hungary: cinemas receive very little in the way of support, the small and medium distributors are in trouble and there is even talk of cinema closures, starting this summer.

- Petr Vitek and Olga Raitoralová, for their part, highlighted the slightly different situation in the Czech Republic where 27 cinemas are now digital (all multiplexes in the country and two single screen theatres). On 15 July 2009, the Union of distributors and exhibitors issued a joint statement on the need to equip cinemas in digital. The State Fund of the Czech Republic to Assist and Promote Czech Cinematography responded and provided exhibitors with CZK 45 million in the form of repayable loans in order for the exhibitors to be able to finance their digital equipment. The aim is to equip 30 cinemas between now and the end of 2009. The fund is committed to financing a maximum 50% of the cost of investment provided that the exhibitor guarantees to pay the remaining sum. Exhibitors will be able to apply to benefit from this funding next September.
However, this aid offers no solution for cinemas unable to guarantee the remaining investment, putting them at risk of closure when distribution of 35 mm films declines. (It is worth remembering that US films are distributed in the Czech Republic using old 35 mm prints, which is likely the case for several other countries in the region.)
Just like the small cinemas, the independent distributors are also encountering difficulties. In fact, the multiplexes that are already equipped with digital demand that the local distributors pay a fixed sum to screen their films. Not being able to take on these additional costs, certain independent distributors would then be at risk of closure and European films would be even less widely disseminated in Central and Eastern Europe.

 

The professionals in attendance acknowledged the current very real threat to the diversity of programming linked to digital. For the time being, no single national institution appears to realise the seriousness of the problem and there is no move to develop funding to the cinemas and independent distributors. Exhibitors are essentially preoccupied by 3D equipment, wanting to ensure screening of the very latest US blockbusters, so popular with today’s audiences.
Added to this the context of the economic crisis is affecting all countries: the national authorities often have other priorities to deal with before tackling what is nonetheless a vital issue for this sector and for the future of European cinema.

Beyond this meeting, Europa Cinemas recorded 3 new joint action plans in Bulgaria, Slovenia and Poland.

 

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The debate programme has been prepared by the Aero cinema in Prague, Europa Cinemas member, in collaboration with the association Pro-Digi which promotes digitisation in the Czech Republic and the Association of Czech Film Clubs, also responsible for organising the Cinema Summer School. The event is funded by Europa Cinemas.

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Contacts:

Radim Habartik (Kino Aero): info@digitalnikino.cz
 

Please read also:

Interview with Petr Vitek (2009)
Interview with Ivo Andrle, manager of the Aero cinema (2004)

Links:

Summer Film School
Aero Cinema
Association Pro-Digi
Association of Czech Film Clubs