The Berlinale is a great opportunity for exhibitors in the German arthouse sector to meet, and their Annual General Meeting is always held during the Festival.
This year, however, there is a new initiative: we discuss it with Felix Bruder, Secretary General of the association AG Kino - Gilde which represents 380 arthouse cinemas in Germany.
During this 2023, which we hope will succeed in bringing pre-pandemic audiences back into cinemas, on the eve of the Berlinale an event devoted to all the various expressions of German cinema exhibition is to be held. What is it exactly?
Together with HDF, the association representing commercial theatres, and with the Bundesverband kommunale Filmarbeit, we have organized Cinema Vision 2030, a meeting that will help the whole sector to identify guidelines for building the future of cinema exhibition.
The initiative is located in the context of the “Neustart Kultur” programme, promoted by the Federal Government Commissioner for culture and the media to support an innovative approach in the sectors of the media and culture.
Cinema Vision 2030 will start out from an analysis of what has happened from summer 2022, when the first edition of this international conference took place: in fact, in the second half of the year spectators returned to cinemas but not to the extent hoped for, which put to a hard test the confidence that exhibitors had continued to nurture even during the pandemic. The first 2023 results are instead more reassuring, even in a sector such as ours, where Avatar only counts marginally. And so, what are the ideas and strategies that have proved the most promising for recovery? What “lessons” can be learned? What are the most successful practices tried out in Germany and the rest of the world?
We talk about this with international experts, who will tackle subjects such as ensuring audience loyalty by creating a community of spectators, or the role of events for placing the theatre in a distinctive position.
Amongst the events able to distinguish a cinema’s offer, do you include festivals as well?
Of course, in the synergy with festivals, whether international and world-famous like the Berlinale or of a more local character, we see an opportunity for the development and consolidation of those spectator communities that are an authentic strongpoint for the life of a cinema and cinemas in general. Not by chance, we shall be having talks by Carlo Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeck, co-chiefs of the Berlinale.
You have told us that your initiative is supported by the German Government. Are there other measures able to help exhibitors recover from the effects of the pandemic?
Luckily, in 2019 the "Zukunftsprogramm Kino” (Future cinema programme), had already been put into practice, i.e. a fund made available by the Ministry of Culture and managed by the FFA (the federal film board). During the Covid outbreak it even received an extra boost of 30 million euros, both in 2020 and in 2021, and exhibitors were able to apply for financing to cover up to 80% of the cost of their projects. Therefore, many of them took advantage of the period of forced closure to have work carried out on their structures which they would not have been able to do if the cinema had been open to the public as usual.
Undoubtedly a good sign of confidence in a period representing a threat never previously experienced. And is the Programme still continuing?
Yes, it’s still going on, though the annual financing has returned to that foreseen under normal conditions, i.e. 15 million euros, with a limit of supporting 40% of the cost of the project.
One burning question for the sector is that of sustainability and in particular energy consumption. What steps is AG Kino - Gilde taking in this field?
Five years ago we approved the initiative KINO: NATÜRLICH, a project to give advice to the cinemas on how to change their business model towards more sustainability. In this field, too, we achieved that exhibitors can obtain funding from the FFA to reduce the theatre’s environmental impact. In the meantime we have experienced an evolution both in mentality and in legislation. For example, all businesses in Germany must now use re-usable containers. But the area on which KINO: NATÜRLICH is now concentrating is that of energy costs, which have risen so sharply that the very survival of our cinemas is at stake. And this would really be a huge loss both on a social and on a cultural level, also with regard to the spread of European filmmaking.
Can you give us an example or two?
Our theatres are often located in medium-sized or even small centres and act as social and cultural mediators in the area. There, too, they manage to bring quality films, domestic productions and works from a variety of countries. As to European cinema, we carried out a survey on the market shares of German and other European films. We saw that in our cinemas the share of domestic films but also European films, is far higher than it is on the overall market. According to the year concerned, it is even double or three times the overall share. This is why we want to have a future and, indeed, are preparing for the future!
Market share of European films in Germany (German films not included)
Source: AG Kino – Gilde. Analysis based on around 1 000 titles.