This post is part of CJ’s Top Women In Global Cinema 2021 – Redux.
How have your role, position and responsibilities changed since you were first nominated for Top Women In Cinema?
Actually, my role, position and responsibilities haven’t changed. I own and am still running the same arthouse cinema in Krakow, Poland – Kino Pod Baranami. And with the same core team who are incredible and so supportive.
How did COVID affect you and your business personally?
The COVID-based lockdown affected me and my business deeply. Since it is a private owned company, we had to count only on ourselves to survive. It’s been a very tough time. I know that many people went into a kind of hiatus during lockdown. We were the opposite – working hard all the time, fighting for survival. In a way we were even busier than usual, working around the clock.
Immediately after the first lockdown and closure of Polish cinemas, my team and I started joking that we had to move online. And from that joke – about four weeks later – we built our own online platform, the first Polish cinema with its own VOD platform. A platform which actually is something more than a VOD platform – it accommodates special events, one-time screenings, online meetings with filmmakers and virtual discussions about films.
How did your role, position and responsibilities change (if at all) during the pandemic? Can you tell us a little bit about what your days were like and what you were doing over the past year?
What changed for us, during the pandemic, is that we suddenly moved online. We essentially had to do something that we had opposed for many years. But if the whole world was turning to virtual, we decided that we had to be part of that. We didn’t want to be left out. That’s why we came up with the crazy idea of building our own online platform. Even though we knew nothing about it.
So, I spent long days and nights learning about online screenings and VOD. I talked to many companies but we decided to go with the solution offered by New Zealand’s Shift72. It was crazy – the time difference caused us to talk at dawn or late at night. We decided to trust the technology which had previously been used by Sundance and in Cannes. After everything had been decided, the brilliant New Zealand team managed to quickly set up our online cinema. At the same time I had to discuss with Polish distributors the idea of providing us with online content. It has not been easy but I’m grateful to the distributors who were open minded and ready to go for it. They supported us and at the same time they had extra income in the time when cinemas were closed.
We also moved our discussion clubs online – a member of our team led Zoom discussions with students and pupils and we organised a few online meetings with filmmakers.
The core of our team was busy, working throughout the months of lockdown on the online cinema. I think that keeping ourselves busy helped us survive that time as we didn’t even have space to worry about the future.
Do you think COVID will change the cinema business? If so, how?
I think that it might change cinema habits for a while. For example, in Poland it is still obligatory to wear a mask – that’s why many people are not coming back to the cinema experience. But at the same time I am optimistic when I look at box office numbers for our cinema after reopening. There are still people who want to watch films in the cinema.
The biggest challenge now will be to keep the habit of cinema-going in the youngest audiences who might not be that attached to cinema. But our mission is to take care of it. Of course, the shrinking theatrical window will be challenging. But I do have faith in our audiences.
How do you believe the cinema industry can recover once audiences are able to visit movie theatres again?
I think that what our audiences need now in order to come back is great content – and by that I mean not just screenings but some additional value that is only available in theatres. Of course, that is something that we have been doing for years – but we have to increase those actions.
I believe that our goal now should be to provide a good cinema experience, making it as easy and as pleasant as possible for the audiences.
We will keep our online platform for the future and we’ll try to combine the virtual and the on-site experience. It will be helpful for cinemas to have a presence in online streaming and VOD. But the cinemas’ main goal has to remain bringing back audiences to the cinema.
What do you like most about working in the cinema industry? What is one of your fondest memories?
I like that it’s a constant challenge and that it’s an environment that encourages constant creativity. I like experiencing new stories with new films as well as getting to know new people (filmmakers and fellow exhibitors). I love the satisfaction of watching the audience in a dark cinema room during the screening, when I find the faces of happy viewers more interesting than what’s on the screen.
I grew up in the cinema – my parents used to run a few cinemas in Krakow (I still work with my mom and my dad is also in the film business as the Head of Krakow Film Festival – a short films and documentary film festival), so it is a natural habitat for me. After school I used to come to the cinema to take a peak at screenings and also to take part in important film events, when filmmakers such as Agnieszka Holland, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Michelangelo Antonioni, Terry Jones visited the cinema. One of my favourite memories is welcoming Robert De Niro at Krakow Airport as a 10 year old girl dressed in local folk dress.
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- Complete List: CJ’s Top Women In Cinema Post
- CJ’s Top Women In Global Cinema Redux – 2021 - September 30, 2021
- TWIC 2021: Suzie Welch – Chief People Officer, Odeon Cinemas Group - September 30, 2021
- TWIC 2021: Carol Welch – Managing Director UK, Ireland & Commercial Officer OCG Europe, Odeon Cinemas Group - September 30, 2021