Europe has a new cinema conference well worth paying attention to. The second annual Cinema Vision 2030 was held in Berlin on 15 February, on the eve of the city’s Berlinale film festival. The one-day event boasted a wealth of international speakers, topics and sessions that tackled the challenges but also opportunities facing cinemas in the post-pandemic era. Having at first awkwardly run at the same time as CineEurope in June last year (for various reasons of necessity), the conference seems to have found a natural date and confidence.
The event was organised by German arthouse cinema trade body AG Kino, together with the country’s general cinema trade body HDF Kino and the Federal Association of Communal Film Work (Bundesverband kommunale Filmarbeit e.V.) that represents non-commercial cinemas. The event looked at medium and long-term solutions to issues facing cinemas, with practical and hand-on examples from cinema operators from around the world. The event was opened by Christian Bräuer, initiator of the event and head of AG Kino. His day job is running Berlin’s arthouse cinema chain Yorck Kinogruppe, whose magnificent Kino International the event was held in.
Bräuer welcomed the large crowd by pointing to the many challenges facing cinemas as a result of the pandemic, rising costs and Russia’s war against Ukraine, while also highlighting the need to keep a focus on sustainability, inclusivity and other hot-button issues. He emphasised that all those assembled were united by a love for cinema and belief in its future. He was also generous in his praise for the partners of the event, the organisers and the day’s moderator, Ute Soldierer, who did a terrific job. While mainly a German audience, the event had a very international feel in terms of focus and speakers, with over three-quarter of the presentations on stage in English and translation devices available for English-German simultaneous interpreters to assist.
The first panel looked at “Cinema as a Brand in a Digital World.” There were three great actual cinema-operator practitioners, so the examples and advice felt both tangible and relevant. Clare Binns, Joint MD of the United Kingdom’s Picturehouse talked about how while they were a 26-strong chain, every one of their sites positioned itself as a “local” international cinema. She discussed the new customer “Celebrity Service” training programme and urging staff to talk to customers about films. The New York Metrograph (another CJ Cinema of the Month) is a two-screen “pure repertory” that has built a big following that is “young, diverse and skews female.” It’s 35mm screenings sell out faster than digital and it has both a restaurant (but no food in the screenings) and a book shop. “We are building a community through curation and education,” said CEO Christian Grass.
Thirdly Elise Mignot from Cafe des Images in France talked about cinemas as the “Third Space” and came with some impressive statistics: 6,000 screenings (89% art house), 500 different films, 400 events (of which 250 cinema-related), 180 guests (of which 60 film makers), 120,000 admissions and 140,000 users – this for a relatively small cinema in Hérouville-Saint-Clair (Caen, France).
The only industry pessimism express during the panel may have been Ms. Binns’ barbs at her UK cinema competitor Everyman. Burnishing her legitimate cinema credentials, she asserted that, “I didn’t just get shipped in from a food chain.” Picking up the Everyman thread later, she said, “they are very much about food – not committed as much to film as Picturehouse.” It felt a bit like sour grapes, not least as Ms Binns admitted that as part of a larger cinema company – she didn’t mention Cineworld by name – Picturehouse was unable to show films from streaming companies that “broke windows” and that as such there was a shortage of quality films. “That’s been difficult for us,” she acknowledged.
The next panel and speakers looked at “Creating loyal communities from local audiences.” It was a double-dose of French insights, but delivered in perfect English. First up Jean-Marc Quinton, Head of Programming at CineZephyr, France, compared and contrasted different membership schemes, including Loyalty Card (ten stamps get you on free), Pre-Paid Ticket Cards (10 tickets for €50 – “Very French”), Exclusive Membership (“Very British to be part of an exclusive club”) and Limitless viewing (cinemas only lose if the customer goes more than eight times per month). We then heard from Helene Ambles, Director of Development of France’s Pass Culture, that gives young people a pre-paid card that they can spend on cultural activities and goods. Books top the use, but cinema is second. Then Elise Mignot returned to the stage to vouch that as a cinema she was very happy with how the Culture Pass was working and showed more statistics on what it had done to drive cinema consumption at her cinema.
Post-lunch was the showstopper with the double (husband and wife) act Henri Mazza and Sarah Pitre from Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, USA. Alamo has become a byword for not just combining food and films, but also putting on imaginative events around cinema screenings, as well as their Zero Tolerance to talking or phone usage in the cinema. No description could do justice to the rich multi-media presentation of everything ranging from the Quote-Along Screenings of “The Princess Bride” to the surprising overlap between audiences for Champagne Cinema and Terror Tuesday. Even for German’s who are a bit ‘traditional’ when it comes to taking any food hotter than warmed-up nachos into a cinema screening, the charm of Mazza-Pitre double act seems to have won them over. Because at the heart of the eventisation is a love of films and a clear strategy to leverage attention for spectacle and more mainstream film into appreciation and audiences for smaller and more niche films.
Afterwards the audience got an update on what to expect from the film festival ahead with “Festival in focus: Berlinale 2023.” As always there is an emphasis on a diverse slate from the Berlinale programmers. This then fed into the next panel: “Films, Festival & Cinemas: making the film community grow together.” Keith Bennie from Canada’s Toronto International Film Festival talked about engaging audiences and the hard work of outreach to marginalised communities. The TIFF Bell Lightbox was particularly interesting as it effectively created a 365 days per year ‘festival’ with its five screens, film reference library but also three restaurants and exhibition space.There was also Next Wave Programming involving youths and Secret Movie Club.
Sarah Pitre then returned to talk about Alamo’s Fantastic Fest. Having to travel the furthest, Elysia Zecola gave an insight into her work as National Festivals Director of Australia’s largest independent chain Palace Cinemas. Their philosophy is that great cinemas and festivals should not be the preserve of people living centrally in big cities, but wherever possible. To this end they have French, Spanish, Italian, Scandinavian, German and British film festivals around the year, tapping into a the many immigrant communities of the country, as well as working with the country embassies. There was a panel discussion that tackled issues such as engaging younger audiences and the need to make them feel separate as somehow “cinema goers of the future” through some “junior section,” but active participants in the current festivals.
The final section of the day was turned over to a workshop, in German-only, but tackling some interesting topics and building on the presentations and discussions from earlier in the day. This was followed by a Wrap-up of CV2030 and a drinks reception in the stunning lobby of Kino International, overlooking the iconic Berlin TV tower. Chatting to organiser Christian Bräuer he said that there would always be a place for other cinema and film events, such as the Leipzig Filmkunstmesse for arthouse films and the Baden-Baden cinema trade show, but that this was a way of filling some gaps. Based on the high calibre of international speakers and topics, it seems certain that the Cinema Vision 2030 will become a regular fixture before the Berlin Film Festival and a something that cinema people from all over Europe should seriously consider adding to their planning diary for 2024.