Arthouse profiles

Arthouse profiles

Cinema Visionario, Udine

Marco Villotta

May 2017

Udine is a small city of approximately 100,000 inhabitants, located in the North-East of Italy, in a region called Friuli Venezia-Giulia. The history of Centro Espressioni Cinematografiche (C.E.C.), the exhibition company running Visionario, began in the 1970s with the management of a 200-seat cinema, named Ferroviario, dedicated to screening art-house and quality films.

Cinema Visionario, Udine

During the ‘90s, Ferroviario grew in terms of audience numbers while other cinemas in the town closed, and two multiplexes opened in the suburbs.

At the beginning of the year 2000 the municipality of Udine decided to turn a closed girls’ school, built by the Fascist regime in the 30's, into a cinema. This building, a beautiful example of Rationalist architecture, is located near the town centre, in a residential area. The restoration works ended in 2004 with the opening of Visionario, a three-screen cinema with a bar, book shop, exhibition area and mediatheque. The restoration works were funded by the Friuli Region. In addition to Visionario, which has 400 seats, C.E.C. also operates the only other surviving cinema in town: Centrale, which, in the 90's, was transformed into a two-screen cinema. Where Visionario is more art-house oriented – it is a Europa Cinemas member – Centrale hosts a more commercial programme. The Ferroviario closed in 2008, largely due to uncertainty regarding the future of the building.

Two other significant projects extend the activities of C.E.C. beyond cinema exhibition.

The first is the Far East Film Festival, a Festival dedicated to popular Asian Cinema. It is the most important cultural and artistic project handled by C.E.C., and reached its 19th edition in April. It takes place in both the main theatre in the city, which seats 1,200 people, and at Visionario. The 60-70 film screenings attract around 1,200 accredited participants and reach 60,000 spectators.

The second project is Tucker Film, a film distribution company, funded in 2008, together with Cinemazero, whose catalogue is mostly dedicated to East Asian filmmaking. They also represent European and Italian titles. DEPARTURES by Takita Yōjirō, THE HIGH SUN by Dalibor Matanić and ZORAN by Matteo Oleotto are a few examples.

The Far East Film Festival also hosts FEFF Campus, an educational project for young, aspiring Asian and European journalists. Ten students have the opportunity to attend a training programme with seminars, interviews and workshops focusing on the art of film and writing. They work under the supervision of a host of experienced film industry and media professionals.

2016, the first half especially, has been good for cinema in Italy, largely due to some national films. It has been a very good year for Visionario too, as it reached over 112,000 admissions, its best result ever. This was possible thanks to the great success of significant European films, including; ASPHALTE by Samuel Benchetrit, SUFFRAGETTE by Sarah Gavron, THE DANISH GIRL by Tom Hooper, SON OF SAUL by László Nemes, FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS by Stephen Frears, and I, DANIEL BLAKE by Ken Loach.

A European cinema looking East

In general, there is a good choice of European films  in Italian cinemas but, sometimes, there is an issue of timing (a lot of films are released too late in Italy, when compared with other European country release dates), and there is a deficit of films appealing to younger audiences.

In terms of marketing, over the last few years we have worked on building a strategy to improve our use of social media, especially Facebook. This involved the help of a communication strategist, who is training our team.

Our main strength, however, still lies in the loyal base of our cardholders, of which there are approximately 5,000 each year.

Udine is a small city, but it differs from other similar towns. Where most cinemas tend to open late, we start very early in the day (the first screenings are around 2 or 3 pm), offering a time slot which is well suited to elderly people, an audience that would be neglected if we offered mostly evening screenings.

Besides focusing on quality programming and choosing the right films, Visionario aims to be an attractive place for both general and younger audiences all year round. It tries to adapt its space for different forms    of entertainment. For example, in the summer we set up an outside ‘arena’ where movies can be watched using headphones. We also organize diverse events including concerts, ethnic dinners and open-air markets. Throughout the year, the cinema café hosts concerts and DJ sets (almost one hundred in 2016) with the help of local bands, artists and youth organizations. Moreover, Visionario’s Audiovisual library “Mario Quargnolo” co-ordinates workshops and educational programmes specifically for young people. Not all activities translate into an immediate growth of ticket sales, but all of them contribute  to  maintaining  the  outstanding  position of Visionario within the town’s ever-growing leisure activities.

Marco Villotta, Co-Director