EDCF Convention 2023 Trials New Format in Nuremberg

By Patrick von Sychowski | March 17, 2023 2:55 am PDT

The European Digital Cinema forum (EDCF) finally had a chance to hold one of its very popular in-person conventions at the start of February 2023 in Germany. There was much to catch up on, both in terms of the hot-button topics and in-person get togethers. There was also a new president and a board that had only been able to meet virtually during COVID. The end result affirmed the value of physical cinema meetings, holding these types of events in a cinema environment and highlighting the issues the face the industry faces as it rebuilds itself and looks to the future.

The two-day convention was held 7-8 February at the Cinecitta multiplex in Nuremberg, Bavaria, in the south of Germany. Attendees could not have asked for a better cinema that embodied and pioneered the values and aspirations that EDCF promotes, whether innovation, quality or sustainability. Cinecitta was a CJ Cinema of the Month almost exactly five years ago and the cinema has, if anything, only become even more impressive since. Should you find yourself in the region it is definitely worth a detour. And the EDCF could also not have asked for better hosts, who went out of their way to show off the cinema and make it a great venue for the conference and socialising, while at the same time showcasing what made it so special.

The convention began appropriately with a tour of Cinecitta, which is helpful as the complex can feel labyrinthian with its multiplex levels above and (especially) below ground, long corridors and even separate entrances. The complex has 23 screens, not counting the pop-up outdoor summer screen on the roof, but soon there will be a 24th screen we were told by the site’s CTO Benjamin (‘Benny’) Dauhrer. His job is not only to ensure that the cinema runs smoothly, but that it continues to evolve and stay ahead of current trends. As such the cinema did not just have solar panels on the roof as a “green” measure, but had also applied for permission to install a hydro power unit in the river flowing past the cinema, thus making it even more sustainable.

On top of everything at Cinecitta – CTO Benjamin Dauhrer explains sustainability initiatives to the EDCF Convention 2023 delegates. To his right is Cincecitta founder Wolfram Weber. (photo: Celluloid Junkie / Patrick von Sychowski).

First Day

The convention was then formally opened by new President, Cathy Huis in’t Veld-Esser, who stressed that rather than just a convention, she wanted the EDCF to be a true forum and a conduit for conversations inside and outside the group. It is to this end that so many other cinema interest bodies were invited and given a slot. She also stressed the importance of diversity and how when she joined the EDCF, she was one of the very few women and how she felt the need for seeing more of a balance in the composition of such bodies and meetings.

There was a joint industry update. Former EDCF President, David Hancock, gave us the Omdia numbers with an outlook of 90 wide releases (over 1,000 screens), with supply and spacing of films more balanced and diverse than either in 2021 or 2022. Future box office recovery will depend on supply, but there are promising signs with Amazon announcing that it is looking at a regular theatrical window for its releases.

After that, Laura Houlgatte, UNIC, came to give some advance sneak figures ahead of their official release at the Berlin Film Festival the following week. 2022 was up +55% in Europe in the previous pandemic year, though still had some way to go to recover to 2019 or even three-year average from before the pandemic (-31%). She cited Gower Street Analytics’ forecasts, which put 2023 at USD $29 billion, which is +12% from 2022, though still -27% on the three year average 2017-2019. She identified content, HR, movie-going habits, rising costs and living expenses.

Former EDCF President David Hancock presents Omdia statistics for cinema recovery. (photo: Celluloid Junkie / Patrick von Sychowski)

This was followed by an industry update from several cinema associations:

ISDCF update by Steve LLamb
ICTA trends and developments by Jan Runge
LIPA update by Tom Bert
SAWA update by Julian Pinn.

An interview with Steve LLamb on the new standards related to digital cinema followed, in which issues such as cinema LED, ‘misfit’ aspect ratios and SMPTE DCP plus more were discussed. Finally, there was a talk on “Green Deal: right of repair as a challenge for the digital cinema ecosystem,” by Radoslav Markow, who highlighted servers that were no longer serviceable and what the European Commission might do in terms of enforcing ‘right-to-repair’.

After the coffee break (sponsored by EIKONA) there was the first big panel, looking at ‘How and which new upcoming technologies can improve business for all industry players and moviegoers,’ moderated by yours truly. With expenses rising, cinemas have to be more selective in how they expand, upgrade and improve the customer experience. Despite this, both cinema operators represented on the panel, Kinopolis’ Jan Harmsen and Cinecitta’s Benjamin Dauhrer said that they plan to pursue quality, even if it comes at a cost.

Tom Bert (Barco) and Wout van der Elst (CinemaNext) confirmed that manufacturers and vendors had to look at new financing initiatives, such as leasing, to enable their cinema clients to upgrade. It was also highlighted that a shift to laser projection offers savings in terms of electricity usage. Lastly Marc Schutrumpf pointed to event cinema as a way for cinemas to provide a premium experience to its customers.

Christine Berg of HDF Kino was unwell, so Jan Runge interviewed her replacement, Jonas von Fehrn-Stender, on the progress report from the German cinema sector and on Digital Cinematography Developments. The first day then concluded with a dinner sponsored by Cinionic and mingling by the delegates into the chilly night of Nuremberg.

Laura Weber presents the history of the Cinecitta cinema. (photo: Celluloid Junkie / Patrick von Sychowski)

Second Day

The second day at Cinecitta began with a presentation by Laura Weber on the history of the family-owned and operated cinema, which also has associated cinemas in nearby towns like Erlangen (Manhattan Kino). She revealed that the nickname of her father, cinema legend Wolfram Weber, is ‘the mole’, because of his penchant for digging down in order to expand cinemas. When you are situated in the city centre of historic towns such as Nuremberg or Erlangen, that is the only way that you can accommodate an IMAX-sized screen, without disturbing the look of the old town. Cinecitta is an ‘iceberg’ cinema in that you can not see most of it from the outside, because it is below the surface, or rather the street level. When it first opened in 1995 the building cost was a staggering 75 million euro.

There was then a series of quickfire soapboxes ‘a la EDCF’ in the style that the forum has become known for at its annual meeting at IBC in Amsterdam, which will resume this September. This allows vendors, manufacturers and experts the opportunity to drill down in one aspect of a topic for no more than 5-10 minutes. There was an overview of the status of LED in cinemas from Tom Bert and Wout van der Elst, which showed that while there were more vendors (most of them Chinese), there was still a slow uptake. Energy efficiency of new laser projectors was the topic of Christie Digital’s Chris Connett, who noted that one multiplex operator had reported that the electricity costs per customer had gone up between 2019 and 2022 by 170%-200% and from €0.57 to €1.54. Lastly, Bernard Collard of Strong MDI talked about the different screen types.

Then came the time for the second large panel, this one co-moderated by Julian Pinn and myself. The format worked surprisingly well, allowing the moderators to take turns. The topic was what challenges were overcome and lessons learned from the release of “Avatar: the Way of Water”. There had been reports of issues with 3D compatibility and last-minute fixes to get the film to play. However, the panel was very constructive, looking at the workflow all the way from mastering multiple DCPs, which Disney’s Carly Brown explained via video link, through distributing the file to multiple locations (Gofilex’s Paul Huis in’t Veld) to storing and playing it out in the cinema (EIKONA’s Andreas Stier), to the cinemas handling of the film formats (Cineplex’s Susanne Flaexl) and finally, the ticketing and reporting (MACCS’ Renate Scheliga).

Laura Houlgatte of UNIC discusses cinema heroes at EDCf Convention 2023. (photo: Celluloid Junkie / Patrick von Sychowski)

Laura Houlgatte, UNIC, then gave an in-depth talk on another subject that has been plaguing cinemas alongside other hospitality businesses since the end of the pandemic, in addition to energy costs and inflation: HR. She highlighted that the employment rate and the labour market slack is at the most extreme it has been in Europe since 2009. This has made it more challenging for cinemas to find staff and they are also having to find new ways to incentivise and reward them, other than just through salaries. This was followed by a networking brunch with typical Bavarian pretzels.

The last formal topic is one that has been getting ever higher on the agenda of cinemas and one that David Hancock of Omdia pledged to make his main focus for the next phase of his career: sustainability in the film and cinema industries – Towards Net Zero. This subject encompasses everything from the size of the forest needed to cut down and build a sound stage, to the carbon emission of a tentpole film (3,370 tons according to SPA). Some key points were that carbon neutral cinemas are a way off, energy prices increases costs, laser projection will help but air conditioning (and a cinema’s HVAC system) is the key. The topic was then discussed further by some of the previous panellists from Barco, Gofilex, Cinionic and Cinecitta.


Towards the end of the session there was an ‘open mic’ segment in which ideas and thoughts about the two days, EDCF and future focus were discussed. There was a good question from Steve LLamb about people with disabilities going to cinemas and the differences in the US and European markets, which is the kind of topic that organisations like the EDCF can play a constructive role in. There was also a summary of the two days by President Cathy Huis in’t Veld-Esser and a look forward to the next EDCF events, primarily the Los Angeles tour pre-CinemaCon in April and the September IBC gathering. Overall, there was a positive mood, though the suggestion that future conferences co-located with other events by the many additional cinema associations did not get much traction.

Over final drinks sponsored by UNIC, there was a mood that things had not returned to ‘normal’ since the pandemic, but that the cinema finds itself facing new challenges. However, the success of “Top Gun: Maverick”, “Avatar: The Way of Water” and many local films showed that there was still an appetite for audiences to go to the cinema and hence a need for the EDCF to contribute to improving that cinema-going experience. When it takes place in a cinema as magnificent as Cinecitta, there can be no doubting that cinema has a long future ahead of it yet: premium, sustainable, experiential and very satisfying.

Keep it sustainable – David Hancock at EDCF Convention 2023. (photo: Celluloid Junkie / Patrick von Sychowski)
Patrick von Sychowski
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