Giornate degli Autori
A Conversation with the Europa Cinemas Jury
Each year, EU countries are represented in Venice by a jury of young women and men from all over Europe under the 27 Times Cinema initiative. The 27 jurors are selected among the audience of the Europa Cinemas network. One of their tasks is to award a prize to the best film of the Giornate degli Autori selection. The 27 spoke with the four Europa Cinemas Label jury members Octavio Alzola (Cines Renoir), Silke Bomberna (Sphinx Cinema), Gabriele Ciglia (Cinema Nuovo) and Mirona Radu (Cinema Muzeul Taranului) about their experience as exhibitors and their collaborative work as jurors during the seventeenth edition of the Europa Cinemas Label at Giornate degli Autori.
Rowan: This edition of the Venice Film Festival has been an interesting one, considering all the precautions that have been made to be able to secure the health and safety of the participants. How has the COVID-19 situation changed your work in your cinemas? What measurements did you have to undertake?
Silke: For my cinema for example, we opened when facemasks weren’t yet obligatory, so the visitor numbers didn’t change for us for the first week. When the facemasks became obligatory, our numbers went steeply down. But now it’s slowly getting better. We used to have to leave two seats empty, now only one. I think people are slowly but surely coming back.
Octavio: We have cinemas in Madrid and Barcelona. When we reopened, we made a big marketing campaign for the announcement. It went really well. We had some special films and were some of the first to reopen in Spain. But we didn’t open all our cinemas at the same time. With the safety measures, we are currently at 50 percent capacity, we could be at 75 percent but we prefer to stay at 50 because of the feeling of safety for the visitors. The people usually come to one of our cinemas and see how safe it is and then come back for other screenings.
Rowan: I think I noticed that with my friends as well. It was a big step to go back for the first time, but once they went back to the cinema, they realized that they had really missed it.
Octavio: The cinema is a safe place. They are doing a great job here in Venice. You are seated with no one on your left or right side, you are not talking with anyone. You have to wear your mask, and just look at the screen.
Gabriele: I work in Italy so our cinemas were the first ones to close. During the summer, we organized outdoor screenings. At the beginning it went really well, especially in July. But in August it started to get worse. Now we are planning to reopen our cinemas. It’s not easy because we have to find the balance between planning to go watch a movie and managing the situation. We are organizing everything to make the cinema a safe space where people can come and enjoy movies.
Mirona: I’m from Romania and we started open air cinemas at the end of July. And now, from September on, we are allowed to open the cinemas but with strict measures. That’s why I told my team to keep the outdoor cinema open as long as possible. The people in Romania are afraid as the corona cases increased in the last weeks. I don’t know what will happen. When we came back with the open air screenings, we showed some Romanian films that were stopped in distribution, because for those we could continue with Q&A’s and introductions with directors.
Daniel: As exhibitors and part of the jury, what criteria are you looking for when deciding which film should receive the Europa Cinemas Label?
Gabriele: The main thing is the quality of the movie. But the quality of the movie, in my opinion and also for the others, is that the plot is well-structured. Some films do not have that quality, so we also look at the visuals, if there is something interesting in the photography or in the directing.
Mirona: And also we have to decide the potential of the film at the box office. We are arthouse cinemas and represent European cinemas, so we have to consider the release in different European countries.
Silke: Also for me, possibly with the agreement of the rest, the movie has to cause an emotional response in me. Did the dialogue make me think of something, was I floored by the cinematography, did I really like the acting or was there a performance that really touched me? And it doesn’t have to be in a positive way, it can also disgust me. And then I start thinking about why I was so disgusted or so moved and then I start thinking about the plot, the acting and things like that.
Mirona: For me, I also consider how I can market it. Maybe the film is great but not so easy to market. The main criteria for me is if the film is needed by its audience. We also have a responsibility to bring important voices into the cinema and maybe discover new voices and support the arthouse niche. In a way, this label could help people understand that these films are important for cinema lovers.
Daniel: How can the label affect the box office? Or can it affect the film in any other way?
Octavio: It can affect it but not in the box office. Audiences will not see the film has the label and compare it to the Palm d’Or or something like that. It can affect the European distributors and make it easier for them to get that film into the theatres of their country. Europa Cinemas communicates to cinemas that this film has the label. If the film gets distributed, they communicate again that this film with the label will premiere in your country at this date. And you know if you premiere this film, it is in line with the criteria of Europa Cinemas and it will activate a bonus.
Rowan: How do you promote a smaller European film, opposed to a film from a different continent like America, Asia etc.?
Silke: Finding partners and organising special events around European movies, like having a speaker about the subject, always helps. I guess, word of mouth and buzz is kind of important too. We had HONEYLAND (dir. Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov) which was super popular and kind of inexplicably so because it’s a very niche film. I believe that sometimes it’s just luck. You can try and market something and sometimes it works and sometimes it just doesn’t.
Gabriele: It depends on the audience. In my town, Varese, we show only independent movies, not the big American ones. That’s because we have a multiplex in this town, so the movies are split between those different cinemas based on their specific audiences. During the year we organize different festivals catered around certain topics. It’s a way to promote the movies to different audiences.
Octavio: For us, the marketing of independent films is very different to the marketing of American films. For American big films, they have their own campaign. Trailers are shown on TV, there are big posters throughout the whole city. Independent films are not marketed like that. Sometimes we use our own spaces in the cinema to market these films and that’s great. Maybe one or two months before we have stickers and posters ready for people to see. For European films we also show the trailers a lot. Last year we started a new program called “The Conversation'' in which we showed European and Spanish films. We have one of our hosts who will speak about the topics of the film before it starts. It doesn’t have to be the director, or the writer or the actor/actress of the film. It sometimes is, but other times we may have a photographer, or expert in international politics, depending on the film.
Mirona: it's very important to keep in mind that we try to build a community of arthouse cinema lovers, which is part of the overall strategy of the cinema.
Gabriele: It’s important to organise something with other partners, and promote together.
Silke: In terms of American movies, we have a very specific audience that is very much into arthouse, so only the blockbuster arthouse films will work, like Tenet (dir. Christopher Nolan) or Dune (dir. Denis Villeneuve). For our audience, other American films will do worse because they are so focused on arthouse productions.
Octavio: For American films, we look at specific production companies and for example films that work well at Sundance, or here in Venice like Nomandland (dir. Chloé Zao). Those are the bigger for us, American productions that are interesting to our specific audiences.
Daniel: Speaking about the process of promoting films, what was the most successful European film you promoted last year? There were so many great ones!
Octavio: For us, it was Almodóvar's DOLOR Y GLORIA, it was amazing, almost a year non-stop in theatres. Almodóvar himself comes to our cinema in Madrid almost weekly to watch films.
Rowan: So could you ask him to come for an event or was it not even necessary?
Octavio: [laughs] It was not necessary, but he is very private, so it would have been difficult.
Silke: I would say PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (dir. Celine Sciamma), that one was very popular.
Daniel: Why do you think it was so popular?
Silke: Certainly, it helped that after Cannes, a lot of people talked about it already and also it appeals to a very large audience. Since it's a costume drama we get a lot of older people, and because it is about two women in love, younger people also come to see it. It appeals to a very broad audience.
Rowan: I'm part of a platform that is aimed at promoting arthouse film for a younger audience, and we as the jury here also represent that audience. I notice in my own experience that it can be harder to promote the lesser known arthouse titles to this audience. Do you have any tips on how you cater to that audience?
Octavio: There is one big thing for a younger audience and it is very simple: it's the price. We have reduced ratings on Wednesdays and I can always tell that we have a fuller audience with a younger demographic that day. For example, your fellow jury member Veronica told me she comes to our cinema every Wednesday, and I understand why.
Mirona: Unfortunately, it is very difficult to reduce the prices of tickets, especially during these times. For us, we try to work together with collaborators that know how to address specific audiences. In return, we can give them a space where they can screen films.
Daniel: What I think would also help is to have influencers who will promote online the screenings, this will allow to reach a younger community.
Octavio: We try to get that organically. Unless they are the director of the film and are involved, but generally we only accept that kind of attention if they are genuinely interested in the film and want to post about it.
Silke: We try to always have something in our program that appeals to young people. Arthouse has a bit of a reputation of being slow and a bit stuffy, but there are definitely films that get attention from a young audience. Ema by Pablo Larraín was one that did really well, and we also had Monos (dir. Alejandro Landes) last year which was great.
Rowan: I think it's on us to try and keep that up and continue to bring in those audiences.
Silke: I think you are the perfect people for that. It works a lot better when people are specifically known for having an interest in cinema when promoting films on social media.
Octavio: Telling your friends about films you enjoyed, that is the most influential.
Daniel: In general, when I watch a film that I know could be of interest to my friends I will recommend it to them, usually they go watch it.
Silke: That works a lot better than a random influencer saying that you should watch a certain film, because the audience will just wonder why.
Gabriele: We have volunteers who are very young, it is a group composed by people that are under 25 years old, and they propose screenings that focus on a young audience and present the movie. It is great because the audience can see that young people are involved and it's also an opportunity for them to gain experience, improve their skills and be more confident.
Daniel Morawitz – Austria
Rowan Stol – The Netherlands