Category Archives: Countries

Paris-based MK2 buys Spanish exhibitor Cinesur

MK2 40 ans

Paris-based exhibitor and distributor MK2 has bought Spain’s third largest exhibitor Cinesur in a deal valued at around €10.5 million. MK2, which this month celebrates its 40th anniversary, is based only in France’s capital where it controls 11 multiplexes with 65 screens, as well as four high-end theatres.

The deal has surprised industry watchers, as there are few obvious synergies between the two chains. MK2 has already announced that it will be closing two Cinesur cinemas in the province of Malaga with a total of 16 screens going dark

Cinesur was established in 1932 by the Sanchez-Ramade family and is focused on the southern part of Spain around Andalucia in cities such as Seville, Cordoba, Malaga and Toledo. The exhibitor was put up for sale in 2011 when the other parts of the Sanchez-Ramade business empire (primarily construction) took a hit.

It was supposed to be bought by UK’s Cineworld, which instead pulled out at the 11th hour and ended up merging with Israeli/Central European chain Cinema City instead. Cinesur has nine cinemas, with a total of 120 screens and 22,000 seats, part of the deal.

According to the then press release, Cineworld was set to pay €18.6 million for the business. Though no price has been announced this time, it is thought that Mk2 paid around €10.5 million, which would imply a near halving of the price and perhaps the primary driver for the deal. The holding company of Cinesur was also in bankruptcy, making the deal faster and cheaper. As Diario Sur put it, the chain was “going through a serious crisis that forced it to hang the ‘For Sale’ sign on their cinemas. ” With both similarly-sized circuits having limited geographical spread and different languages, it is difficult to see what if any immediate synergies the deal offers.

le Salle MK2

MK2 was founded by the legendary French producer/distributor Marin Karmitz, with his son Nathanael Karmitz taking over the business in 2005. In 2012 the company suffered from four costly box office failures (including “On the Road”, by Walter Salles, and “Like Someone in Love”, by Abbas Kiarostami) and switched focus to its cinema and catalogue of around 500 titles. At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, though, the company was once again ubiquitous, handling distribution of the award-winning “Mommy” by Xavier Dolan.

Read More »

Cinema Audiences Getting Older, German Study Finds

FFA logo

The German Federal Film Board (FFA - Filmförderungsanstalt) has published its annual reports on cinema attendance and Top 75 films for Germany in 2013.

Noting successes for German titles last year, the two reports also record a significant decline in cinema attendance by young people but also a marked increase by older patrons. The findings are in line and emphasise trends in other developed markets, highlighting the needs to promote youth cinema attendance, while at the same time anchoring older audiences.

Demonstrating the customary German thoroughness and attention to detail, the reports were produced on the basis of the Media*Scope project from the Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung (GfK), whose film-related data FFA has exclusive use of, with the panel including no less than 25,000 participants and representatives of the German population over the age of 10.

The first report ‘Auswertung der Top 75-Filmtitel des Jahres 2013 nach soziodemografischen sowie kino- u. filmspezifischen Informationen’ (Evaluation of the Top 75 Movie Titles of 2013 by socio-demographic and cinema-and film-specific information)(PDF link) looks at the box office performance of German cinemas of the past year. While German box office as a whole declined from euro 1,033 million to euro 1,023 million (down one per cent) and attendance fell by 4% from 135.1 million to 129.7 million, as highlighted in the European Audiovisual Observatory 2013 annual report’s findings, the FFA report accentuates the positive by focusing on the success of German films.

Germany Top 75 Cinema attendance

Of the 75 most popular film of 2013 no less than 22 were German productions, which achieved an attendance record of 25.2 million tickets sold. This is more than twice as much as the 13 German productions that broke into the Top 75 in 2012 and only achieved attendance figures of 11.3 million ticket buyers. Local production “Fack Ju Göthe” is also the first German film since 2008′s “Keinohrhasen” to be the most successful film of the year, whether German or Hollywood. However, total attendance for both the Top 75 and all film were down on 2012. Even if they were up on the prior two years, the recent high-water mark is still 2009 (Avatar).

Germany cinema attendance age group

The report does an excellent job of breaking down cinema attendance for each Top 75 film by age (above), gender, income group, employment status, educational level, household size, day-of-the-week attendance, awareness of film’s genre and enough other categories to make even Nate Silver cry uncle!

It is the second report, however, that makes for more troubling reading: ‘Kinobesucher 2013 – Strukturen und Entwicklungen’ (‘Moviegoers 2013 – structures and trends’) (PDF link).

Read More »

What Wanda’s IPO Prospectus Tell Us About China’s Cinema Market

Wanda Cinemas

No less than 30 Chinese companies are looking to list on US stock exchanges this year, led by Internet giants such as JD.com and Alibaba. The reason for choosing the likes of Nasdaq is because unlike their Chinese counterparts they don’t require three years of profitability as well as US regulations that allow for different classes of voting stock. In total some USD $36.6 billion has been raised by 140 Chinese companies through U.S.-based initial public offerings (IPOs) since 2000. But one Chinese company that isn’t going down this route is Wanda Cinemas.

As we have already reported, Wanda is planning a two billion yuan (USD $321 million) IPO ahead of a listing on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange. This is likely to make it China’s biggest domestic IPO in 2014, even if it is overshadowed internationally by Alibaba’s U.S. listing. The smaller film distributor and exhibitor Shanghai Film Co. has also announced plans for a 969 million yuan (USD $145 million) IPO. But it is Wanda that we will focus on as it is more of a bellwether on the state of the Chinese exhibition industry.

It is important to remember that one of the reasons Wanda is not seeking a U.S.-based IPO is because it has already listed AMC Entertainment Holdings, which controls the second largest North American cinema chain. This listing raised USD $314 million, i.e. almost as much as the Wanda’s China IPO aims for. The stock done very well since being listed, with shares rising from USD $18.81 to $22.39, after reaching a high of $26.68 in the brief six-month time span in which it has been trading.

Wanda Cinema’s IPO: the Basics

By way of quick recap, WSJ tells us that:

Wanda Cinema Line is controlled by commercial-property conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group, which always installs cinemas in the shopping complexes it develops. With that support, Wanda Cinema has expanded into smaller Chinese cities. Dalian Wanda is controlled by its chairman, tycoon Wang Jianlin, who is the country’s richest man. Wanda Cinema Line owned 142 cinemas in 73 cities with 1,247 screens at the end of 2013, its preliminary prospectus said. Its net profit in 2013 rose 55% to 603 million yuan from 388 million yuan in 2012, while revenue rose to 4.02 billion yuan, up 33% from 3.03 billion yuan.

It is worth flagging again the concerns raised in the risk factors section of the prospectus, as highlighted by the WSJ:

China’s largest cinema chain takes a dim view of the domestic movie industry. In the risk factors section, the prospectus notes that “While Chinese films have achieved a certain volume, there are relatively few films of commercial value” and regulations limit foreign film imports. Therefore, Wanda faces risks resulting from the “lack of quality films in China that can really win good praise and reviews and completely satisfy market needs and the cultural demands of viewers.”

So while everyone is celebrating the success of “X-Men: Days of future Past” and “The Monkey King” in the first half of this year, local action epic “The Iceman 3D” underperformed and had to be split into two releases in order to get a decent return on its runaway budget.  Meanwhile, even Hollywood flops like “Transcendence” didn’t perform much better in China. We have also previously flagged up on this site the very real risk of a crash that the Chinese cinema business faces. Read More »

Local Films to Blame for Decline in European Box Office in 2013

European Cinema Statistics 2013

The European Audiovisual Observatory (EAO) has released its statistics on European cinema admissions in 2013 ahead of the Cannes Film Festival and they make for grim reading. We have already written about the preliminary figures (Europe’s Cinema Attendance Decline is Greatly Exaggerated), so we will not cover old ground.

It is worth, however, briefly recapping some of the key analysis that still hold true for this data:

  • Decline was mainly due to lack of any major local hits (Italy was an exception);
  • It was a tale of East and West, with former rising while latter fell significantly;
  • Russia overtaking the UK as Europe’s second biggest cinema market is big news;
  • There is a major question about ‘secular decline’.

So what is new about this data and what more can it teach us?

First Quarter Data Is Pointless

EAO makes much of the fact that Q1 of 2014 is an improvement on the first quarter of the year before.

Provisional Q1 figures from 11 EU markets indicate that admissions in the European Union increased in the first three months of this year, compared to Q1 2013. Quarterly admissions increased significantly in 3 out of the 5 big EU markets, namely in France (+18.9%), Italy (+13%) and Spain (+8.7%), outweighing smaller decreases in Germany and the UK. On a cumulative basis admissions in these five markets increased by 5.6%. As these markets represent around 75% of total EU admissions, it can be assumed that total EU admissions increased in the first quarter. This would also be backed up by data from six additional EU Member States which registered a growth in cinema attendance, including the Netherlands (+4.8%), Sweden (+17.9%), Greece (+8.9%) or Slowakia (+49.5%).

This is true but also largely irrelevant. Coming off a disastrous 2013, it would be shocking if this quarter saw even more steep decline. Oscar-contending films and The Lego Movie attracted customers but tell us nothing about the year as a whole will be an improvement on 2013 or not.

Read More »

China’s ‘Last Mile’ Plan for Digital Cinema: Ditch Western Technology

Sun Xiaobin

Is Chen Xing the biggest and most important digital cinema company that you’ve never heard of? Quite likely.

With the conversion of existing cinemas to digital winding up around the world, future focus of manufacturers will be on territories with organic growth, before the the replacement cycle sets in towards the end of this decade.

And no market right now has more focus on it than China, with it strong (though likely unsustainable) growth of 18 new screens per day. This means that there is still a need for thousands of projectors, servers, speakers, screens and more every quarter in China. Even other emerging markets like Russia, Turkey and Indonesia can’t match that level of demand.

Given that China started early with digital cinema installations, it also means that its replacement cycle will start earlier than many other territories as next-generation laser projectors with HDR/HFR (high dynamic range/high frame-rate) come onto the market.

So it should come as a wakeup call to western digital cinema equipment manufacturers when a smart, ambitious and heavily R&D-focused Chinese manufacturer comes along as states that ‘cinema equipment autonomy will be China’s film industry digital revolution “last mile.”‘

Chen Xing Technology Development (Beijing) Co., Ltd. 

Chances are that you have not heard of Sun Xiaobin, or even the company that he heads, Chen Xing Technology Development (Beijing) Co., Ltd., or the Oristar brand under which its products are sold. But all that is likely to change soon.

Mild mannered and sweater-wearing, Mr Sun is nevertheless as laser-focused and as unwaveringly determined as Steve Jobs in his vision; by the time China overtakes the United States as the world’s largest cinema market it will be his company and not Christie, Dolby/Doremi or GDC that is the dominant technology player in the cinema technology space.

In a lengthy Q&A interview in China’s Enterprise Observer titled ‘Leader in Digital Cinema Revolution Last Mile‘ Mr. Sun lays down his precise vision and methodology for how Chen Xing is going about becoming the Mainland’s leading cinema technology company.

It is a vision that goes far beyond just new servers and technology autonomy, but encompasses a holistic view of the cinema technology environment. But servers are the obvious entry point for the company.

We see the enormous capacity of the Chinese film market and the fact that it relies on imports for digital cinema servers. We at Chen Xing Technology think that independently developed digital cinema servers can not only break the technical barriers abroad, but also has a huge market potential.

With 35mm film movies starting to be replaced by the digital cinema trend, starting in 2006, Chen Xing Technology homed in on the needs of the digital transformation of the theater with a systematic analysis and research of digital cinema encoding system, so that we developed sophisticated digital cinema servers and digital cinema auto show management systems.

In 2011 we had developed AQ10 digital cinema server, which finally passed the third grade U.S. FIPS security certification, also passed the certification test of DCI. Chen Xing Technology is unique in this whole industry because it is China’s first to achieve DCI-certified digital cinema servers. Previously, only foreign companies developed a DCI-compliant 2K screenings server. Now, AQ10 is on Disney’s official website as having also become a recognized facility.

Marketed as the Oristar AQ10 digital cinema servers, details about it can be found here. The focus on servers is a smart move as they are likely to be replaced before the digital cinema projectors they are tethered to. This is particularly true if servers are to offer HFR of 60fps or even up to 120fps, with the next Avatar films likely to push such an envelope, since many early servers can’t handle any DCPs encoded above 48fps.

AQ10 digital cinema server

But Chen Xing is thinking way beyond the server to a whole end-to-end technology ecosystem for the theatre.

Read More »

London Cinemas’ Food Hygiene Scorecard: Quite Good, but Room For Improvement

Westminster London cinemas hygiene scorcard

With cinema attendance plateauing or stagnant in most developed markets, exhibitors are turning to ways to extract more money from the patrons that still frequent cinemas. Concessions is the most obvious way, which is why the last decade has seen a proliferation of in-theatre cafes, bars, stand-alone ice-cream counters, gourmet food and cinema-dining.

While price is still the major complaint for most cinema goers, with sugar, trans-fats and GMO issues only starting to bubble up, should cinema goers in fact be more concerned with food safety? The recent reporting of cockroaches in a Cineworld near Manchester led to questions about food safety practices in major UK cinemas.

To get to the bottom of the issue, Celluloid Junkie filed a Freedom of Information (FoI) request with London’s Westminster Council for all documents relating to food safety issues in central London cinemas for the past four years. The findings were reassuringly positive with overall high standard. However, not all exhibitors scored equally highly and historically there have been  lows. Our findings might still surprise you.

Scores on the Doors

The details about the food hygiene standards that we received from Westminster Council are neither a secret nor should they come as a surprise. With Westminster depending on tourists and Londoners spending billions of pounds (yes, billions) each year in the shops, bars, restaurants, theatres (plays and musicals) and cinemas, the council has a particularly high interest in ensuring that strict standards are being observed.

This is not to say that other councils might be more lax, but that Westminster is unique in the the whole of the UK in terms of acting as a magnet for bar, club, restaurant, cinema and theatre goers.

Westminster cinemas also have the UK’s highest ticket prices (Leicester Square ones in particular), but are also the ‘red carpet’ cinemas, so they occupy a special position in the UK cinema pantheon.

As such Westminster Council was an obvious participant in the Scores on the Doors scheme, whereby its 1-5 ratings is posted on a certificate to be displayed prominently, as well as on the website. Unlike the Westminster Council documents released to us, however, it does not a provide a detailed breakdown and only covers the most recent inspection.

A Few Caveat To Begin With

There are several things to be noted before we analyse the figures and findings. First of all, this is not a survey of all the cinemas in London but only those in Westminster Council in the centre of London. Health & Safety is a Council matter in the UK and while UK cities like Leeds or Glasgow have councils that more or less cover the whole city, London is split into many boroughs and councils. Westminster is the most central and with the highest cinema density in London, including the famous Leicester Square in the West End.

This means not all London cinemas are included and there is a slight imbalance in the exhibitors represented. Odeon has no less than four cinemas included, but Vue only one as the two Westfield Vues and also the O2 lie in other boroughs. Westminster does not even include all of central London cinemas, with Odeon Covent Garden just one block away from Curzon Soho, but in the Borough of Camden. It would not have been practical to get information from all London councils as there are 32 boroughs in the Greater London area, plus the self-governing City of London, which houses the Barbican cinema.

Secondly, it should be noted that the survey were conducted at different times and are not an annually recurring event. Inspections which result in a low score or major recommendations usually see a follow up, but a cinema that scores well is usually not re-visited for a few years. We have thus taken the last four years into consideration, averaging scores but also recognising the most recent scores as the most relevant in practical terms.

Top of the Class: Prince Charles and Apollo

The highest score of any cinemas in Westminster was given to the Prince Charles Cinema and the former Apollo Haymarket, who both got five out of five in 2012.

The former might be a surprise but is a testament to a well run small independent cinemas. Situated on a narrow pedestrian street behind Leicester Square, the Prince Charles Cinema specialises in showing older film at a discount price, as well as specials like Rocky Horror Show or Sing-along Sound of Music and festivals and themed screenings. Comments that were made were of a minor nature, such as bag of popcorn stored on the floor of the storeroom, which is a no-no for any food.

Apollo Haymarket is part of the boutique mini-multiplex chain acquired by Vue in 2013. While the cinema has re-branded and is now Vue Haymarket, at the time of the inspection it was still Apollo Haymarket. With a focus on bar, cafe and high-end snacks, it is good to see that the then Apollo’s attention to detail extended to all aspects of health and safety when it comes to concessions. We trust that this has continued as part of Vue. Comments were minor points; again popcorn bags stored on the floor and the ice scoop left lying on top of the ice.

Read More »

China’s Multiplexes Are Headed For a Crash – Statistics Show Why

Z Storm

Just 15%. Remember that figure as you listen to Hollywood representatives and trade press falling over themselves to laud the growth of Chinese cinemas.

At this year’s CinemaCon MPAA’s Chris Dodd marvelled at China’s USD $3.6 billion box office in 2013, representing a year-on-year growth of 27.5%, saying that “with China building 13 new screens every day more growth is coming.” The Hollywood Reporter breathlessly reported last week that  Chinese box office “first quarter revenues for 2014 have already exceeded the country’s full-year total for 2009,” and that it could surpass USD $4 billion for the whole year.

The opening of screens has also accelerated since Dodd quoted the 13 screens per day figure last month. “In the first quarter, there were 325 movie theaters built, for a total of 1,609 screens, which means an average of 18 new screens went up per day,” says THR. Thus, China presently has 20,007 cinema screens compared to the 40,000+ in North America.

There is just one problem with all this exuberance; if the rate of cinema openings outpaces Chinese box office growth, then it is not a boom but a bubble. Because we’ve been here before and it did not end well.

Gravity Defying No More?

Any news and analysis about China has taken place against the wider economic landscape of the mainland. Last week Reuters reported that ‘China economic growth slows to 18-month low in first-quarter‘ as China’s new leaders reign in credit and rule out major stimulus “to fight short-term dips in growth.” It is noted that “even three or fours years ago, growth of less than 8 per cent would have alarmed Chinese officials,” who have been used to double digit figures, but in January-March the economy grew just 7.4%. The housing market in particular was a source of worry. Keep that in mind.

Of course, there were plenty of pundits saying, “this time/one is different.” Yu Yongding, former President of the China Society of World Economics, wrote in the article ‘Fears of a Chinese crash are unfounded‘ that “the market is always in search of a story, and investors, it seems think they have found a new one this year in China,” noting that dire predictions about China’s economy have “abounded for the past 30 years.” He admits that “China’s real-estate price bubble is often named as a likely catalyst for a crisis,” but tries to assuage fears by pointing out that China does not have sub-prime mortgages.

Whether China’s economy as a whole is headed for a crash/slowdown/correction is beyond the scope of this article. But it should be noted that the property market is identified even by defenders of the economy as the weak point. Commercial real estate is more exposed than private housing and multiplexes balance most precariously on top of the countless, recently constructed, shopping malls.

But surely the Chinese middle class’ insatiable appetite for domestic hits, Hollywood blockbusters in 3D, giant Imax screens and popcorn ‘dyed in all colors of the rainbow’ and ‘coated with sticky sweet syrup’ (thanks Joel) will keep cinemas going? Statistics say ‘no’. Here is why.

The Worrying Piece of Data – 15%

While you wouldn’t pick up the worry about a Chinese cinema sector bubble from western media and trade press, the issue is debated fairly openly in the Mainland’s Chinese-language press. In an article originally titled ‘Perspective Hidden Behind the 20,000 Screens‘ [a reference to the total Chinese screen count] on CE.cn (source: Beijing Daily) author Lu Yang quotes:

“From the status of the overall development of the market, the growth rate of the domestic box office this stage and movie theater attendance is nowhere near the speed of construction, an increase of the ratio between the two is in an unbalanced state, which means that the national theater attendance is actually not ideal. “critic Liu Chang says.

Cultural Industry Research Institute of Peking University, the Beijing Daily reporter Chen Shaofeng pointed out, “statistics show that the average attendance was only 15% of the national theater. Oversupply in the market [means] the theater’s income will be diluted further. “

These are shocking and worrying admissions that should set alarm bells ringing. The 15% occupancy rate might be the norm for western multiplexes, but just like China needs a growth rate of above 7.5% to 8%, so too it cannot sustain its cinema sector with what passes for normal in the US and Europe. Consider the fact that IHS stated last year that in the UK “The average cinema has an occupancy rate of 20-25 per cent across the week.” So Chinese occupancy rate is way below a mature market like the UK that has gone through extensive consolidation.

Read More »

China Embraces Event Cinema With ‘Turandot’ and 3D ‘Farewell My Concubine’ (CJ EXCLUSIVE)

NCPA Turandot

China’s two major opera houses are joining the ranks of distinguished institutions like the Met Opera and the Royal Opera House with the first recordings and screenings of their operas.

Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) recording of Puccini’s Turandot opened this month’s Beijing International Film Festival (BJIFF), while the Shanghai Jingju Company will screen the 3D opera adaptation of Farewell My Concubine at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles later this year.

The decisive push shows that China is as ambitious in the field of event cinema as it is in conventional films for cinema, despite the lack of tradition of screening ‘alternative content’ in cinemas.

Yesterday the BJIFF hosts the screening of NCPA Opera House’s Turandot, which has been localised and given a Beijing-setting but sung in Italian. The event was captured in high definition in partnership with  Huaxia Film Distribution Co. and will also be shown at the upcoming 17th Shanghai Film Festival, which will have a special focus on opera movie screening.

Perhaps counterintuitively, the first screening of the event took place at the NCPA itself on Sunday 16 March, as part of the 2014 Opera Festival, where a special 6-meter-high and 16-meter-wide screen was erected on the stage for the HD projection, with the production crew, NCPA orchestra and choir members all present to see their work on the big screen.

Turandot cinema show

The BJIFF screening took place at the Xidan Joy City Capital cinema, which has 290 seats and recorded an attendance well over 70%. Much like western operas shown in cinemas, the audiences clapped and cheered ‘Bravo!’, despite the opera not even being shown live.

Interviewed afterwards by Xinhua news, the audience members were overwhelmingly positive to the new experience.

“The film version of the stage version of the opera and there are still differences.” Audience Li Wei said, “the stage version of the opera actor observed facial expressions, and the movie screen actor expression, subtle emotional changes have been enlarged, more have impact.” In his view, the film more fully meet the opera opera lovers’ visual enjoyment. When Princess Turandot tears appear on the screen, kneeling in prayer picture viewer Hu Fang Yankuangshirun. “I’ve seen the opera before,” Turandot “, but there is no sound in the cinema today feeling good, feeling listening to music today play exceptionally moving,” she said.

As in US and UK, the price is a major factor for the popularity, with tickets for regular screenings in cinemas across China starting from today, costing just 30-50 yuan (USD $4.80-8.00).

Read More »

Latin American VPF Deals Hide Regional Problems – UPDATED

Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid

[Ed: We have received lots of feedback and updated info from readers fram and active in the region. ¡Muchas Gracias/Muito Obrigado! The article has been UPDATED THROUGHOUT as a result.]

Much like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid headed to Bolivia after they had run out of banks in the Wild West to hold up, so too digital cinema integrators have moved on to Latin America, now that virtual print fee (VPF) coffers are empty in North America and Europe. Yet despite the flurry of Latin America-related VPF press releases at the recent CinemaCon, there are fundamental issues that will make it a challenge to migrate the continent to digital cinema.

We have already discussed the press releases from CinemaCon 2014, including those  related to Latin America, so for a full breakdown have a look HERE. We will not provide a full analysis or analyse each deal, but try to look at the context and outlook for the region, as it struggles to catch up with the rest of the world in going digital.

As we pointed out during ShowEast 2012 it was the last chance for Latin American countries to get a VPF deal and we are unlikely to see many more major deals after this one. Gary Johns from Sony Electronics commented then that their VPF deals for North America were available until 31 March 2013, i.e. almost exactly a year ago. While international deals do have a little longer to run, studios like Twentieth Century Fox have politely but firmly informed exhibitors, distributors and (perhaps most importantly) government representatives in Brazil and elsewhere in Asia that the end of 35mm prints is nigh.

GDC at the Forefront – of press release announcements

It is noteworthy that deployment entities like Scrabble and GDC have signed separate VPF deployment deals with Hollywood studios (here and here respectively), highlighting that the continent could not easily follow deployment patterns and terms even for non-US or EU territories such as India and China. Of these two entities GDC has been the more active, with no less than five announcements relating to Latin America, while Scrabble has been largely silent recently. So what’s the motivation to be aggressive on the VPF front in Latin America?

Read More »

In an Age of Automation, Sweden’s SF Bio Welcomes You to Each Screening in Person

YouTube Preview Image

I tend to travel to Sweden a few times each year, usually to visit family and/or on business. Even if I am there for just a few days I make an effort to visit the cinema and catch up on a Swedish film. Sure, I could buy them on DVD or even download them (though legal options are few), but I prefer my films in the cinema. In the last year I’ve seen Återträffen and Monica Z this way, both hugely enjoyable on the big screen.

Almost inevitably I end up seeing them at a cinema or multiplex owned by SF Bio (their catchy intro above), whether the large Filmstaden Sergel multiplex in the middle of Stockholm or the small three-screen Cinema 3 in Ystad, housed in a converted army barack (in the home town of TV detective Wallander).

What I have noticed is that SF Bio does something that hardly any other cinema anywhere else in the world does. They have a real live person introduce the film.

For every screening of every film (at least that I’ve been to in the last couple of years), someone from the local SF Bio staff walks in, stands in front of the screen and welcomes the audience. He or she takes the opportunity to tell us which film it is we are about to see and how long it is; points out which way the emergency exits are, asks us to please switch off our phones and finally wishes us an enjoyable film experience. Some crack a joke or two and none that I have seen ever just go through the motion or seem like they are reading off a sheet. They are not robotic like the average flight steward/ess going through the inflight safety demonstration. They provide a real human touch and a bit of showmanship.

SF Sergel

I have no idea how long this has been going on or how it became a formal policy. The only other exhibitor that I’ve heard does this is ArcLight Cinemas in Los Angeles.

Read More »