Cinemas will survive but they need to adapt, say panelists at the Zagreb Film Festival
by Marta Bałaga
- Trying to figure out “How to Protect Cinemas During the Pandemic COVID-19?”, participants of the online panel shared their fears and hopes for the future
Organised in cooperation with the European Parliament Office in Croatia, CED – MEDIA Office Croatia and the Zagreb Film Festival, the online panel “How to Protect Cinemas During the Pandemic COVID-19?” didn't end on a pessimistic note. “Cinemas have survived and they will survive. They just need to adjust to new times and become more flexible,” argued Željana Zovko, Croatian EU parliamentarian. “We have tried to help the cultural sector by increasing the budget that was severely cut for the culture industry, especially Creative Europe programmes. It is good news.”
Encouraged by moderator Martina Petrović, Nico Simon, President of the Europa Cinemas Association, underlined the importance of culture. “It's one of the first necessity things, like food, so of course it needs help. How can cinemas fight the pandemic? First, they need to survive. The European Commission and the European Parliament have understood that by granting money to support cinemas in Europe which are committed to showing European and independent films,” he said, also mentioning the need for new content.
Christian Bräuer, President of the CICAE and CEO of Yorck Kinogruppe, added: “My colleagues say it's still the same work but less income. We need public support on every level, European and national.” Noting many challenges faced by arthouse cinemas, he also pointed out something that these days could actually be turned into a strength. “We are community-based, mission-driven and that's what counts in this crisis. It's easy to stream movies and order things, but we all know it's not the same as experiencing something together. People love stories, but we love public storytelling too.”
The panelists also noted that, due to the pandemic, cinemas got more digital as well, and that coexistence with VOD platforms was tricky. “We lost exclusivity,” said Simon. “Perhaps we gained flexibility, but only the future will tell. When cinemas were closed, many had partnerships with VOD platforms, so maybe a model based on something like that could work?” Still, big streaming platforms should contribute to the culture in Europe. “They should pay taxes where they make money. European indie films are not the biggest successes on VOD platforms, so without cinemas, there won't be any future for these productions.”
Bräuer pointed out that streaming platforms still value the importance of the theatrical release, naming Parasite as an example. “We saw what was possible,” he said. “This is the time for experimenting, figuring out whether a cinema should have its own digital platform or collaborate with one, but a lot of these platforms are just a waste of time and money. People have much more online content, so the role of a curator is getting more important,” he mentioned, saying that cinemas can be a brand.
Alen Munitić, Artistic Director of Kino Mediteran and Mediterranean Film Festival Split, shared some personal experiences: “I am coming from the front of the fight and we need help. Cinemas, especially independent cinemas, have been fighting for 6 months now, for the audience and for new titles, but it seems that things won't improve before the spring,” he said, arguing that smaller cinemas outside of big cities aren't able to reach out for grants and reliefs, even though they are often crucial for their communities.
Agreeing that there is a need to reach smaller cinemas, which are often unable to tap into certain resources, Christopher P. Marcich, CEO of the Croatian Audiovisual Centre, named the European Parliament as the most reliable supporter of the sector. “The challenge was to find a way to support independent cinemas more directly. We launched the multimedia campaign calling audiences to come back to cinemas this summer,” he mentioned, adding that with no blockbusters in sight, national titles managed to fill the vacuum. “I think there is a future for cinema but yes, we do need to adapt, recognise that online is here to stay and take advantage of it.”
Noting that with scarce content — including independent films — independent distributors “missed a bit of an opportunity there”, Munitić added: “Everybody is underestimating the audience. We need to think about our strategy regarding the distribution of these films and how to make them visible.”
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