Reg. Trib. Milano n. 418 del 02.07.2007 - Direttore responsabile: Elisabetta Brunella

International Edition No. 179 - year 16 - 12 April 2021

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Dear Readers,

Elisabetta Brunella Our attention turns once again to the announced re-opening of the United Kingdom's movie theatres. A fairly prudent return to the cinema. As can be seen from the map drawn up by MEDIA Salles, open-air cinemas and drive-ins can again welcome their audiences starting from today, whilst indoor cinemas are allowed to re-open in England and Scotland as from 17 May, in ‘step three' of the Government's lockdown easing plan. For Wales and Northern Ireland, instead, no dates have yet been published.

In the meantime, the associations representing exhibitors and distributors have commissioned an opinion poll amongst the general public: the results, published below, show a keen desire to return to the big screen. This is obviously an encouraging sign!

But what content has been seen by those who did manage to get to the cinema in 2020? In this issue we deal with the subject from a special perspective, taking a look at the Russian market - the leading market in Europe in terms of admissions - and analysing the performance of films and added content made in Italy.

In the column devoted to women in the world of cinema, Mira Staleva talks to us about the Bulgarian cinema scene, on which the Sofia International Film Festival is a landmark. Organised according to a "mixed" formula, the festival managed to achieve a live red carpet and screenings in the theatre, even in these difficult times.

Happy reading,
Elisabetta Brunella
Secretary General of MEDIA Salles

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Record number of Italian movies in Russian theaters
by Elisabetta Brunella

Sixty-seven Italian titles (including co-productions) had their first release in Russian movie theatres in the year of Covid. But the number more or less doubles (to 133) when counting films previously distributed and offered again in 2020. The most widely viewed of them all was Donato Carrisi's noir, "L'uomo del labirinto", which sold 80,000 tickets. Following closely on its heels was Matteo Garrone's version of "Pinocchio", interpreted by Roberto Benigni. Also amongst the winners came "Cruel Peter", the horror story set in Messina, in the style of a Gothic novel somewhere between British flair and Mediterranean atmosphere. Straight after it came the co-productions "J'accuse" (with France) and "Waiting for the Barbarians" (with the USA).

Browsing through the long list, it comes as no surprise to find arthouse movies - one example for all being "La grande bellezza" - but also, less expected, several comedies. In fact, as if to challenge the assumption that comedy cannot be exported, we find, for example, "Cetto c'è" or "L'ora legale". Amongst the most recurrent typologies and one which never fails to please, emerges that of the evergreens, including "La dolce vita", "Otto e mezzo" and "I vitelloni", seen (again) in 2020 by over twenty-five thousand spectators, and the category of added content, containing a wealth of titles and genres.

The range extends from the so-called exhibition-based art films, like "Impressionisti segreti" devoted to the exhibition at Palazzo Bonaparte in Roma, to documentaries like "Mathera", which introduce the world to iconic and evocative places in the Bel Paese, right up to monographs dedicated to the Italian masters who have always marked art history worldwide, from Michelangelo to Bernini, from Tintoretto to Canova, not forgetting Leonardo and Botticelli. 

This varied range of Italian productions brought 360,000 Russian spectators into the cinemas. A lot? Only a few? In "normal times", in 2019, the numbers were just half that, whilst the titles stopped at a grand total of 78. For once, the annus horribilis brings good news.

Especially when considering that it comes from the Continent's leading market.

Since 2017 Russia has boasted the largest audiences, an honour traditionally reserved for the French market. But if the contest with France, historically Europe's "number one", was previously fought over a handful of spectators (in 2018, for example, 202 million compared to 201), in 2020 the situation is quite different: over 88 million in Russia, 65 in the Hexagon.

What has made the difference in this year suffering from Covid, has been mainly the number of days cinemas were kept open. Indeed, despite a situation that has not been homogeneous over the whole territory, and which experienced a first overall lockdown from 26 March to 15 July, followed by staggered re-openings and further temporary, local closures at the end of October, it is estimated that Russian cinemas were permitted to operate for around 70% of all the days in the year.

The situation in the competitor country was different: in France, according to the CNC, cinemas were open for 162 days, or just 44% of the total.

This article was published in the MIPTV 2021 special issue of Cinema & Video Int'l, the MEDIA Salles media partner.

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Mira Staleva
Managing Director - Sofia International Film Festival, Bulgaria

Mira StalevaThe Challenge

2021 opens under very challenging circumstances but with new perspectives on the horizon, however difficult it is to imagine them with movie theatres and film festivals in lockdown. Streaming is in a comfortable position and going well, but going to a cinema and watching films from home are totally different experiences.

Crisis always brings possibilities for change and reflection. I am one of those people that still considers the theatre as a Temple and the idea of replacing it with home cinema is not really tempting. At the same time we have to come to terms with the fact that technology has been on our doorstep for a long time and we had better use it so that it can be of help and complementary rather than seeing it as an enemy.

I think audiences will be hungry for human experiences that can be felt and shared after the end of the pandemic restrictions and in this regard cinemas must reconnect with their potential audiences in making their message clearer than ever: by creating a variety of events and building a context for people to meet in. The increasing popularity of streaming can only help this process as it can bring many films to the attention of viewers and in this way develop and differentiate sensitivity for the language of cinema and make the debates on cinema lively and vivid. Everything will depend on creativity when offering the real cinema experience. Creativity and partners!

Movie theatres in Bulgaria were open almost the whole month of March and continue to be at the moment. Yes, we were lucky to have the Sofia IFF in real cinemas with a real awards ceremony. Without foreign guests, but at least the show went on. People seemed really excited to be back in the cinemas and besides that, as a festival, we were able to offer the audiences in the whole country access to films. Yes, it is difficult - very difficult - but at the end of the day the problems resulting from the long lockdown can be turned into an opportunity for stronger connections with our audiences.

British spectators prefer the big screen

Audiences in the UK can't wait to get back into the cinemas: this is what Iain Jacob affirms, as President of Cinema First, the body that promotes cinema-going on behalf of distributors and exhibitors.  

His statement is based on an opinion poll commissioned by the FDA - the distributors' association - and carried out by the agency MetrixLab, from which it emerges that around 40% of those interviewed intend to return to a movie theatre within the first few weeks of re-opening, and a further 36% within the first couple of months.  

Lockdown has thus rekindled the desire to watch films on the big screen and the first spectators to return to the cinema would seem to be precisely those who have watched films on digital platforms.  

In fact the cinema-going experience cannot be recreated within the four walls of home: two thirds of respondents say they prefer the big screen, immersive sound, special effects and the vast choice of new films that only movie theatres can offer.

There is the utmost confidence in the health and safety measures adopted by the cinemas since the first lockdown:  this is the opinion of 99% of those who have returned to theatres since 3 July.  In fact there have been no cases of infection being attributed to a visit to the cinema.  

For its own part, the industry has announced a series of new films capable of satisfying the demands of different audiences: from a road movie like Nomadland, winner of the Golden Lion at Venice and with a collection of candidatures for the Oscars to a family film such as Peter Rabbit 2, from the ninth chapter of the action series Fast & Furious to the drama The Father interpreted by Anthony Hopkins, from Cruella the Disney feature film to Dune, the Denis Villeneuve reboot.  

And so it seems that the conditions are right for a grand return to the big screen.  As from 17 May, at least in England and Scotland.  Wales and Northern Ireland, instead, will have to wait a little longer.  

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Edito da: MEDIA Salles - Reg. Trib.
Milano n. 418 dello 02/07/2007
Direttore responsabile:
Elisabetta Brunella
Coordinamento redazionale:
Silvia Mancini 
Raccolta dati ed elaborazioni statistiche: Paola Bensi, Silvia Mancini