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

By | March 11, 2014 6:33 pm PDT

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.

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.

In an interview two years ago with the Head of Information, Thomas Runfors, the issue came up in a question about whether cinema goers should be allowed to Tweet during the movie.

Ett hett diskussionsämne i USA har varit om man ska tillåta biobesökare att twittra på biograferna. Hur är SF:s inställning till användandet av sociala medier med mobilen och läsplatta?

– Vi tycker att man ska stänga av mobilen under biobesöket och det brukar vi säga till dem också. När vi får tillfälle börjar vi med att hälsa alla välkomna och stänga av mobilerna. Det tycker vi är en artighet mot de andra besökarna. I USA är det mer fritt där man till och med hämtar mat under visningen, medan här i Sverige sitter vi knäpptysta. Det är mycket svårare i Sverige med twitter och annat och vi får ofta tala om hur vi gör i Sverige. Men det är inget problem, de flesta förstår att man får vänta med att uppdatera sin Twitter och Facebook tills man är hemma igen.

Translation:

A hot topic in the US has been whether cinema goers should be allowed to tweet in the cinema. What is SF’s attitude to the use of social media with smartphones and tablets?

– We feel that the phone should be switched off during the screening and we tend to ask our patrons to do that. When we have the opportunity we start by welcoming everybody to the screening and ask them to please switch off their mobile phones. We feel that this is a courtesy to fellow cinemagoers. In the US it is more free to even go and buy concessions during the show but in Sweden we tend to stay seated and quiet. It is more difficult in Sweden with Twitter and other things, so we have to explain how it is done in Sweden. But it tends not to be a problem, as most people appreciate that they should wait to update their Twitter or Facebook status until they are home.

While I usually wait until I am out of the cinema rather than home (or back at the hotel) to Tweet, the sentiment is understandable.

SF Ystad

This is not to say claim that SF Bio operates in a Swedish cinema utopia. There have been problems and fights in SF Bio cinema, most notably in southern Swedish city of Malmö (home to TV series The Bridge):

I januari misshandlades en biobesökare sedan han bett en grupp ungdomar vara tysta under biofilmen. I fredags och även under måndagen kastades flaskor och popcorn av ett gäng i publiken och när andra besökare bad dem lugna ner sig blev stämningen hotfull i salongen.

Men fenomenet är inte nytt, redan i höstas slog Arbetsmiljöverket larm efter ett oanmält besök. Fast då gällde det personalens säkerhet.

Translation

In January a moviegoer was beaten up when he asked a group of youths to be quiet during a cinema screening. On Friday and also on Monday bottles and popcorn were thrown by a gang in the audience and when other visitors asked them to calm down the atmosphere became intimidating in the salon.

But the phenomenon is not new, already last autumn the Workplace Environment Authority raised the alarm after an unannounced site visit. But then it was the safety of the cinema personnel that was in question.

While Sweden is currently busy preaching to the rest of the world about the importance of gender equality in films with the Bechdel test, perhaps they should also try to export the practice of re-introducing the human touch at the cinema. This is particularly appropriate in an age when projectionists have been made redundant and ticket booths and their staff are being done away with in favour of automated bookings. Courtesy costs nothing – at least as long as you have some cinema staff left.

Patrick von Sychowski
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Patrick von Sychowski

Patrick was a Senior Analyst at Screen Digest, went on to launch the digital cinema operations of Unique and Deluxe Europe, then digitised Bollywood at Adlabs/RMW, and now writes, consults and appears on panels about cinema all over the world.
Patrick von Sychowski
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