5 December 2022
While it is widely disputed whether certain businesses slow down during the month of December, there can be no debate on the subject when it comes to the cinema industry, especially as 2022 draws to a close. After two pandemic-dampened years, the business is spending the last four weeks of this one in a frenzy of activity with two simultaneous industry events on the run up to the release of one of the most anticipated sequels in some time.
Of course, we all know the film being referenced here is “Avatar: The Way of Water,” the follow-up to Jim Cameron’s “Avatar,” the highest grossing film of all time (in case you had forgotten). There is little to say about the movie other than it is definitely finished and currently being shown to select journalists from around the world in advance of a global publicity campaign to rival all others. In fact, some of the journalists attending “Avatar” related junkets in Europe had to show up a little late for the Red Sea International Film Festival, currently taking place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
This is the second year RSIFF is taking place, an event being backed heavily by the nascent Saudi film community and the country’s government. It is the first year that RSIFF is hosting a market, appropriately named The Souk. Housed at the Ritz Carlton and the VOX Cinemas located at the Red Sea Mall, the festival is screening 130 films from 61 countries in 41 different languages. The subtitles on all the films being shown are in Arabic and English, the two official languages of the festival.
Some of the films selected for RSIFF have appeared at festivals in Berlin, Cannes, Venice and Toronto, to name but a few, and are making their Middle East North African (MENA) debut. Such is the way with a festival held at the end of the year. Others titles, especially those from the Middle East, are making their world premieres such as “Within Sand,” a Saudi film from director Mohammed Alatawi, screening in-competition.
Most noteworthy is that two of the regions’ cinema operators are present not as exhibitors, but as film producers and distributors. VOX Cinemas announced some of the 25 Arabic films they plan to make over the next five years during a press conference and Muvi Studios, the production arm of Muvi Cinemas is in Jeddah to meet with producers and screen its own films. That Saudi Arabia and the Middle East has been a growth market for exhibition is not breaking news, but being here and seeing the very beginnings of a local film industry and the opportunities that affords is quite unique. It feels like learning about and being able to invest in crypto currency in 2009, though that might be a bad analogy these days (see FTX).
Meanwhile, in Thailand, the first CineAsia conference in four years is being held in Bangkok. The Film Expo Group was forced to cancel the 2019 edition due to the political unrest in the host city of Hong Kong and then COVID thwarted the event over the past two years. Our very own Patrick von Sychowski is in attendance and will be filling us all in with reports from the show. Surely, if I were not at RSIFF, I would definitely be at CineAsia myself.
It’s hard to believe that after the past two years, when movie theatres were fighting to remain open and relevant, we have two “competing” events serving the industry in markets with robust or growing local productions. At the same time we’re hearing from distributors big and small like Warner Bros., Disney and Amazon the need to premiere movies in cinemas to increase their value in ancillary markets such as their own streaming platforms.
Majid Al Futtaim’s movie theatre division, VOX Cinemas, announced a large slate of Arabic films during the Red Sea International Film Festival, taking place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Vox has quickly become the Middle East’s largest movie theatre chain, operating 237 screens across 57 locations in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
The broad line-up of movies will feature productions from new and established filmmakers from across the region and confirms VOX Cinemas’ commitment to become a major player in Arabic film production.
There is a very logical reason for getting into making and distributing movies as a theatre operator as Ignace Lahoud, Chief Executive Officer, Majid Al Futtaim Leisure, Entertainment & Cinemas explained, “Distinctly local productions, particularly in a nascent market like Saudi Arabia, offer an untapped and real opportunity. As the leading cinema company in the region, we are committed to growing a sustainable film industry and believe that establishing a dynamic content ecosystem is integral to achieving this goal.”
There is no way to briefly explain non-fungible tokens, known as NFTs, or the manner in which they are bought, sold and traded. Suffice to say the market for these digital ephemera has markedly declined over the past several months, making them look more like tulip bulbs than legitimate long-term investment opportunities. As NFTs have become more mainstream various players in the film industry have been exploring how they might benefit the business.
For instance, Illuminart and Rooftop Productions are financing their animated feature “Plush” by selling 50,000 teddy-bear-themed tokens, making each of the buyers a profit participant in the movie. Now CGR, the leading French cinema chain, is launching its own NFT, giving buyers of the tokens exclusive benefits such as access to special screenings and the chance to win up to a year of free cinema entries. The tokens depict fictitious Corniz which are inspired by a cross of Ghibli and Pixar animated characters.
France is currently struggling to bring audiences back to cinemas after the pandemic and CGR is using the NFT offering as one tool to boost attendance. If the scheme works, especially among tech-minded customers who are, literally and figuratively, more likely to buy into NFTs, then expect to see other cinema operators copy the idea. At the very least, CGR can be credited with trying to innovate its marketing efforts.
Things are looking up for exhibitors in Brazil, at least in regards to the number of movies headed to their theatres. On 30 November Imagem Filmes, a leading Brazilian independent film distributor based in Sao Paulo, held an event for the country’s cinema operators in order present their 2023 theatrical slate.
Exibidor reported that the company will bring 15 international films and 13 nationally produced films to theatres next year. Imagem is also rolling out three films before the end of 2022 including, “Pronto, Falei” and “O Amor Dá Voltas” and the American film “Terrifier 2.”
Underscoring how local productions will play an essential role in reviving Brazil’s post-pandemic cinema industry, Gustvao Romboli, Imagem’s Director of Sales said, “Imagem continues to bet firmly on national cinema. We need to work hand in hand to resume the box office of national films while also continuing to look at international films.”
As the cinema industry gears up for 2023, some companies are getting a head start on preparations. Two big executive announcements were made during the first week of December, with Influx introducing Rolando Rodriguez as a Senior Advisor and Vista promoting Mischa Kay to Chief Revenue Officer.
Rodriguez may be retiring as the CEO and President of Marcus Theatres, but true to what he stated during ShowEast in October, he isn’t leaving the cinema industry. He will assist Influx, a provider of guest-facing technology solutions for cinema operators, with strategic partnerships and decision-making, while working closely with the company’s CEO, Harish Anand Thilakan, to expand into related business opportunities.
Meanwhile, Vista Cinema, a market leading provider of cinema management software and technology solutions, is promoting London-based Mischa Kay to Chief Revenue Officer, a new position within the company. Kay was already a senior manager within the company, and he will focus on helping the grow the market for Vista’s new software-as-a-service offering, Vista Cloud.
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