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The Network - 20/06/2006


Detlef Rossmann, cinéma Casablanca, Oldenburg (Allemagne)



Detlef Rossmann's company Casablanca - Gaststätten, Kultur und Kino GmbH manages two cinemas in Oldenburg: the Casablanca, which has three screens and is a member of Europa Cinemas, and the Wall-Kino, a historic cinema created in 1914.
As well as these two cinemas, this university town of 160,000 inhabitants in north-west Germany also has a multiplex, established in 1999.
Detlef Rossmann's two cinemas now form part of a group of independent German cinemas, most of which are members of Europa Cinemas, aiming to improve the conditions for hiring films from distributors.

How did the idea for this group arise, and what does the group consist of?

We have found out that independent cinemas are disadvantaged compared with multiplexes. For example, distributors' rates for hire are between 4 and 6% lower for multiplexes than for independent cinemas. With my five screens, I do not have enough negotiating power compared with the multiplexes.
On the basis of this finding, we organised a first meeting of independent exhibitors at the last Berlin festival. We met again in Kassel in April, in the presence of Peter Koenig, and rapidly took the decision to create this informal association during the Cannes festival. From an economic point of view, this is the very first attempt to bring together independent cinemas in Germany.
Peter Koenig is an experienced professional who is equally knowledgeable of both exhibition and distribution and is already familiar with this type of negotiation. His company, based in Hamburg and with three members of staff, already represents 200 screens. From now on, he will take responsibility for everything to do with negotiation of contracts and conditions of hire, as well as the issuing of bills to distributors.
To do this, we have not created a new legal structure: each cinema is linked to Peter Koenig by a contract whose value is determined by the number of screens for which he takes responsibility. So it's not a free service but we thought that in this way we would make savings of around 2% of our annual hire costs. And this group, comprising cinemas in north-west Germany, as far as Düsseldorf, is not in any way limited from a geographic point of view and should expand rapidly.

Specifically, how is this cooperation going?

This system has been in place since 1 June. On Sunday, Peter Koenig negotiates a film's hire conditions with distributors and the continuation of a film in our cinemas. Then, on Monday, he informs us of the decisions made. For me, that means I now have enough time to devote to other things, in particular the accompaniment to, and promotion of, films at the cinema.
I do insist on one thing: I am always in contact with distributors as far as the choice of film and additional features and content are concerned. But on the other hand, this does relieve me of the bulk of the administrative work. And while the cinemas are not linked from a legal point of view, this group encourages us to talk to each other.

Does your activity suffer from the presence of a multiplex in Oldenburg?

Yes. Since the opening of the CinemaxX in 1999, two independent cinemas have ceased to trade and I myself have had to close a three-screen cinema. And my two cinemas have lost 50% of their audience.
Competition is fierce but we have found a way of working, insofar as the CinemaxX really shows entertainment films. So we are the only ones to show some hits such as Sophie Scholl - die Letzten Tage, which attracted more than 5,000 filmgoers at the Casablanca in 2005. We do not have exclusive rights for other successful art house films and we are in competition with the multiplex. But that is not serious insomuch as these films, such as A Very Long Engagement and Walk the Line, work better in our cinema and are removed from the CinemaxX schedule at the end of one week. And, even if one of these films is on the CinemaxX programme schedule, I prefer to schedule it, at the risk of duplication, so that our audience does not have to resign itself to seeing it at the multiplex.
As well as this competition, I am very concerned about the change in our audience. When we started out in 1981, our audience was, for the most part, below the age of 30. Today, the opposite is true. Certainly, activities for young audiences have been successful: cooperation with schools works very well and, for example, the Cinéfête festival attracts over 3,000 young filmgoers at morning screenings. But we no longer attract teenagers and students and we are far from alone in observing this. On this subject, we must emphasise that the DVD has become the enemy. Prices are low and, apart from German films which cannot be released on DVD until 6 months after their release at cinemas, there is no time lapse to consider. So American films are released three or four months after being screened at cinemas. And the new possibilities for viewing films over the Internet and piracy do little to encourage young audiences to come and see films in our cinemas. Of course, piracy affects primarily popular American films, but is beginning to affect films which we are likely to schedule.

Interview conducted by Jean-Baptiste Selliez, Juny 2006
Images (from top): Casablanca 1, Casablanca 2 and Wall-Kino