10 March 2022
Watching the Twitter footage of the bombed out Youth Centre cinema in the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, I was reminded of the National Picture Theatre in the UK city of Hull.
The latter cinema was largely destroyed by a German bomb in March 1941. When the air-raid siren sounded, the cinema was screening Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator.” Amazingly none of the 150 patrons inside were injured or killed, having escaped before the bomb hit.
After the end of the war the cinema remained a ruin, with just the front facade still standing. For 80 years nothing was done to it, other than endless discussions about whether it should be torn down, restored or turned into a memorial. In 2021 the United Kingdom’s National Lottery Heritage Fund finally awarded a GBP £227,600 grant to a restoration project for the site that would cover repair and conservation work at the site. This will include the full restoration of the facade, while the inside will be a flexible arts and events space, with a memorial section.
We do not know how long the war in Ukraine will go on, nor how many more people will be killed and buildings destroyed. Having failed to conquer a single major Ukrainian city in the first two weeks of the war, the Russian army appears to have switched tactics to shelling the cities indiscriminately. Residential areas, schools, hospitals and, yes, cinemas are being reduced to rubble almost in real time on our television screens. A nightmare straight from the worst war films is playing out for real, with no happy ending guaranteed. The only constant heroism on display seems to come from Ukrainians who, rather than flee, have been staying behind to fight for their country. We witnessed this first-hand during last week’s CJ Cinema Summit. You can view the session on demand.
The war will eventually end – and not to the Russia government’s advantage. There will come a time to rebuild Ukraine and hopefully that will include the Youth Centre cinema in Chernihiv, though at the moment the focus has to be to defend Ukraine, save lives, help refugees and punish the Kremlin for its actions by imposing harsh sanctions of Russia. This week we have seen everyone from Netflix and Spotify to Coca-Cola and McDonalds pull out from Russia. We can only hope that the time for fighting ends soon and the rebuilding starts soon after. It mustn’t take 80 years there as it did in Hull.
Cinemas are currently dark in Ukraine, or being used as emergency shelters and aid distribution centres. Polish cinemas are screening films in Ukrainian for refugees, while a Polish cinema called Kino Moskwa is considering changing its name. Festivals around the world are playing Ukrainian films and cinemas are donating proceeds to Ukrainian-related disaster relief funds. But the most heartening piece of news was the volunteers who set up a pop-up movie club for the children in Dorogozhychy – one of Kyiv’s metro stations – currently being used as a bomb shelter. Cinema will be back in Ukraine. Slava Ukraini!
Patrick von Sychowski
, Editor, Celluloid Junkie
Mergers & Acquisitions
Amazon received some good news in regards to its acquisition of MGM. Reuters is reporting that the European Union Commission in charge of antitrust is set to approve the online retailer’s USD $8.5 billion deal to purchase the movie and television studio.
The EU is said to be nearing an announcement on the acquisition by 15 March, though the internet retail giant is still awaiting a similar ruling from the Federal Trade Commission in the United States before the transaction can be completed. Thus, last week Amazon certified to the FTC that it has provided the oversight body with all requested information on the deal. This starts an official timeframe in which the FTC must file any legal challenge to the acquisition by mid-March at the latest.
The chairwoman of the FTC, Lina Khan, has previously gone on record stating that the government should throttle Amazon’s growth into unrelated fields. Now all eyes are on Khan to see if she’ll stand in the retail giant’s way by filing a challenge over the acquisition. If an approval is not granted or a filing is not made by the mid-March deadline, then Amazon can close the deal. The FTC could always still challenge the acquisition with an antitrust lawsuit after it’s completed, which would take at least a year to resolve.
Picking up MGM would give Amazon access to the studio’s vast library of more than 4,000 films from its 97 year old history, not to mention countless television shows, for its Prime Video streaming service. The acquisition was originally announced in May of 2021.
For several weeks, or perhaps months, there have been whisperings that, in the wake of the industry upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) was in the process of launching a charitable non-profit. The exhibitor trade group describes the new organization as “dedicated to promoting the essential cinema exhibition industry by developing future diverse workforces and growing moviegoing communities through research, education, and philanthropy.”
Naturally, The Cinema Foundation will help promote moviegoing and work with existing charities, though it will also create a Center for Innovation and Technology to work on industry standards and ensure the exhibition business is employing the latest tech. This could be one way for exhibitors to have a voice in defining future advances in cinema technology alongside the Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) run by the studios. Data and industry research also looks to be a part of the new initiative.
The founding board of directors for The Cinema Foundation is headed up by NATO’s Jackie Brenneman and is filled with members from all areas of the industry. This means that manufacturers, filmmakers, food and beverage companies, etc. may get an opportunity to become involved with the trade group in some way, unlike NATO itself, in which only exhibitors can become members.
The new non-profit is presently accepting founding donations and is suggesting that exhibitors wanting to participate pledge 1% of their shuttered venue operators grant (SVOG).
Japan Fair Trade Commission has launched an investigation of local exhibition major Toho Cinemas for potential anti-trust violations. Toho Cinemas is Japan’s largest cinema chain and a subsidiary of local film production and distribution giant Toho. The cinema chain is accused of pressuring local film distributors for programming exclusivity, or otherwise see their films blocked from all of Toho’s 677 screens across its 72 cinemas.
Toho issued a statement on 4 March, saying it had “received a report from the Japan Fair Trade Commission concerning transactions by our subsidiary with a movie distribution company.” According to Variety, the Free Trade Commission had “has requested the cooperation in the investigation on a voluntary basis,” by Toho, and that “the company and Toho Cinemas will fully cooperate with the investigation.” Toho Cinema is thus potentially in violation of the statutes of Japan’s anti-trust law dealing with monopolistic practices and restraint of trade.
Toho has long dominated the Japanese film industry through production, distribution as well as theatrical exhibition through Toho Cinemas. Toho releases tend to dominate Japan’s box office, being responsible for five of the ten highest grossers in 2021, including the number one “Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time” which earned USD $92 million when it was released in March of last year.
After “The Batman” opened to more than USD $134 million in North America’s and USD $248 million globally in its first weekend, a few industry heavyweights saw an opportunity to tout their success with the latest Warner Bros. DC comic book adaptation.
IMAX claimed to “hit the global box office with a vengeance” during the movie’s first three days, taking in USD $22.3 million on 725 screens in 76 markets. North America accounted for USD $15.5 million of the IMAX gross for “The Batman,” which makes sense since it played on 405 screens in the territory. That is close to 12% of the title’s opening gross in the territory.
Meanwhile, AMC boasted that it had sold 4 million tickets to “The Batman” in its theatres around the world. In North America the circuit accounted for more than 29% of the movie’s opening weekend gross and accounted for eight of the top 10 theatres in the United States playing “The Batman.” To help drive traffic, and possibly its stock price, members of AMC Investor Connect were granted access to early screenings. The exhibitor also sold a non-fungible token (NFT) for “The Batman,” though there is no word on the success of the initiative.
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