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The Network - 17/03/2005


Focus on Poland: Kino Amok in Gliwice


Following an interview with Ivo Andrle of the Aero cinema in Prague, we wanted to give you another view on exhibiting in those countries which have just joined the European Union, this time hearing from a Polish exhibitor.
Kino Amok, a member of Europa Cinemas for two years, is in Gliwice, a city with a population of 200.000 in the south of Poland. It is a cinema with just one screen and 180 seats and has around 25.000 admissions a year.
We asked Urszula Biel, its exhibitor, about her cinema's place in the life of her city and, more generally, in the exhibiting scene in Poland, which achieved a very large increase in admissions in 2004.
In Poland, 15 cinemas are members of the Europa Cinemas network, supported by the European Union's MEDIA programme. These represent 25 screens.

Europa Cinemas: What is the place of your cinema in the cultural life of Gliwice?

 Urszula Biel: The "AMOK" Cinema was established in 1992. Since its very beginning it was planned to be a studio (arthouse) cinema. I consider it a great success that it survived at all as it would come across many difficulties all the time. The early 90's constituted a period of an economic and systematic transformation in Poland, which resulted in the fall of many cinemas. Therefore, the opening of a new cinema seemed a ridiculous idea. We decided that if the success didn't come after 6 months, we would close it. And it did work after all, although for a long time many people - specifically local officials, as this is a cinema operating within the framework of an institution financed by the local authorities - would ask: what do we need another cinema for?
At present, everybody associates us with another, necessary quality of the cultural life in our city. Even "the lady from the grocery store" where I frequent says that we play "artistic" films.
Recently, a big challenge for us is constituted by multiplexes, growing rapidly all over the country. So far, the closest is 15 km distant from us and another one will be erected right next to us very soon. However, it is clearly visible even now that from all three cinemas located in our city ours are the greatest chances to co-exist with them. Spectators of the remaining, commercial cinemas were the fastest to run away to multiplexes, whereas our viewers are more faithful. Our audience consists mainly of well-educated people, where a large percent is constituted by studying people, or already educated.

What relations do you have with the distributors?

They are satisfactory. We co-operate with all of them, we are not bound to any of them with an exclusivity contract, although obviously our contacts are more often in case of distributors whose offer includes more artistic films. Unfortunately, we are also affected by a highly disadvantageous situation of the cinema market in Poland, that is the fact that almost all titles, including the artistic ones, Polish and European, are first directed to multiplexes, and after they are watched there, they go to traditional cinemas.

In 2004, according to the latest figures, Poland is the country in Europe where the biggest growth has been recorded (+40%). Is the activity of your cinema growing as well?

Unfortunately, the large increase of the audience does not concern us, the reason being that this situation was caused by a few big commercial hits, which are not shown by us. Poland is a country with a very low statistical frequency factor of ticket per inhabitant (0.7 in a year's scale). So, should such a statistical viewer go to see some hit, he is actually lost for us. Paradoxically, we are much better off when there are no great titles on the market, since we never get such films for their premier shows, and after a month or two it is not probable that many people will come to see them in our cinema - we have already tested it. 

You're not equipped with a digital projector. Would you like to be equipped in the next future? How would you use it? Does a support to this equipment exist in Poland?

 I have never heard of any initiative of our government consisting in co-financing such a purchase, in the same manner in which the government does not invest in cinemas. I would love to have such a projector - perhaps then I would be able to realize my repertoire dreams, which are:
- to have access to the world repertoire, to the classics in particular, which is practically absent in Poland;
- to use the movies for which licenses for cinema distribution end usually after 3-5 years, which makes it impossible to plan a retrospective of some actor or director.
Digital cinema would help make us independent from traditional transport of films, which is sometimes insufficient.

Recently, many recent Polish movies were presented in France as part of Nova Polska. Most of these movies haven't been released outside of Poland. Which Polish movies would you recommend to the European exhibitors?

 The absence of the Polish cinema on European and world screens constitutes a problem incredibly sad for us. I believe that Czesc Tereska, Symetria and Pregi would stand the greatest chance. The relative success of Pregi, Wesele and Edi in Poland is very satisfying.

Do you think there is a new wave of young filmmakers in Poland?

 I would rather be more careful in formulating such a conclusion. That is true that all of us would welcome some new "Polish school", or some later movies that would comment on our - subdued by the former political system - reality. However, the voice of those artists was unconstrained and resulted from their independent artistic expression; whereas now the realizations of certain screenplays constitute an effect of our poor economic condition and the lack of rules for the films financing. As a result, the money goes to those who offer a cheap, contemporary film with a small number of characters. Perhaps such priorities are dictated by the intention to refer to the wonderful traditions of our cinema. However, they do not result from a creative imperative. 

Could you tell us a word about the current bill, according to which 2% of exhibitor income would be distributed to the production? 

 2% deduction for our film production - it sounds very noble. However, managing a small, rather poor arthouse, I have some mixed feelings about it.  Directors will surely benefit from it, but will I? At least I would like to be sure that I will be able to play such a movie in a reasonable time, and not only after a multiplex, which will take all my potential audience.


The interview was held in March 2005 by Jean-Baptiste Selliez