European Producers and Public Funders Discuss How to Attract Audiences Back to Arthouse Cinemas

By Davide Abbatescianni | June 9, 2023 7:17 am PDT

On 19 May, Cannes’ Marché du Film hosted a panel discussion titled “Producers, Films and Audiences: How to Connect the Dots” and moderated by Tamara Tatishvili, of MEDICI. In detail, the conversation focused on the important role of producers in both understanding audience development and creating joint efforts across the value chain to attract bigger audiences.

After Tatishvili’s opening remarks, the floor was given to Tomas Eskilsson, Head of Analysis at Sweden’s Film i Väst and author of the report “Public Film Funding at a Crossroads”, whose second part is now being finalized and will be launched at the Venice Production Bridge later this year.

He explained that the most discussed topic over the last few months has been where and how we will be watching content in the coming years in light of the poor box office figures, which still sees roughly a third of the audience not going back to theatres after the end of the pandemic.

He noted how in the first part of “Public Film Funding at a Crossroads”, 95% of the respondents spoke about the industry going through a “paradigm shift,” something that has already occurred in this business with the rise of TV networks and home entertainment. The growth of streaming platform represents another big challenge especially in Europe, which is characterized by markets significantly different from each other in terms of access to theaters and quality/quantity of the offering.

Tomas Eskilsson, Head of Analysis at Sweden’s Film i Väst. (image: Marche du Film)

He said that the pandemic has only accelerated the downward box office trend, adding that some analysts already predicted a 20-25% decline before the beginning of the outbreak, arguing that part of it would have been recouped through increased prices and enhanced cinema experiences.

Eskilsson believes that the main tools to deal with the current crisis are audience development (in other words, “teaching kids how fantastic is it to be in the dark, silent room and hope they will continue to go to the movies”) and audience design – namely, rethinking the whole filmmaking process while keeping in mind specific audience segments.

Next, Zentropa’s Louise Vesth touched upon the good health of the Danish film industry. Even during the pandemic, the country’s box office benefited from the presence of hits like “Another Round” and “Riders of Justice”. Then she shared some advice for producers willing to reach the widest possible audience. “I think that the movies we see today in the cinema could be the ones we saw 20 years ago. When and how [people see them] has changed, what they like hasn’t,” she said. She recommended to start working on promotion as early as possible and to go to theaters and speak with the owners and the audience.

She warned that it is important to realize that “what really count is entertaining, timely storytelling” and “windows, public funders, diversity and climate programs, good working environments” are “something we need to but they don’t really attract and develop audiences.” She also referred to the Danish Film Institute’s ‘Closer to the Audience’ initiative, which provides valuable data on Danish audiences, enabling filmmakers to better understand their target viewers.

Zentropa’s Louise Vesth. (image: Marche du Film)

Later, Anamaria Antoci, of Romania’s Tangai Production, spoke about the challenges of producing in low capacity countries and the weakness of the public funding schemes in place, adding how some distribution support would be needed to ensure films can reach the intended audience. She also stressed on the importance of tailor-made campaigns and mentioned the successful case of Paul Negoescu’s “Men of Deeds.” The team prepared a campaign emphasizing the film’s genre and its dark-comedy elements, rather than marketing it as a drama.

In her contribution, Kjersti Mo, CEO of the Norwegian Film Institute, highlighted the importance of increasing audience awareness, but also the need to support independent producers and filmmakers while they are navigating difficult waters under the pressure imposed by the streamers.

In the last part of the panel, all the panelists agreed on the importance of understanding the diversity of European audience and revising public funding strategies in order to guarantee a good balance between the creators’ genuine artistic needs, the need for diversity of voices and stories, and commercial viability.

Anamaria Antoci, of Romania’s Tangai Production. (image: Marche du Film)
Davide Abbatescianni