Detlef Rossmann: “I’m afraid small cinemas won’t be able to make it”

The President of the International Confederation of Arthouse Cinemas (Cicae) sketches a picture of arthouse exhibition in Europe.In particular he complains of the many inequalities in national aid and Europe’s adoption of the DCI specifications, which are too expensive for small cinemas.

Ecran Total: You have been President of the Cicae since 2007. Where is your work as an exhibitor located?

Detlef Rossmann: I’m an exhibitor in Oldenburg, a German town with a population of 160,000. I have a cinema with three screens, the Casablanca, which offers arthouse programming. I’m also Vice President of the German Association of arthouse exhibitors.

E. T.: What is the Cicae’s vocation?


D. R. : The Cicae has been in existence since 1956 and unites the European arthouse cinema federations through an initiative of the German (AG Kino), French (Afcae), Italian (Fice, Swiss (SSV-Asca) and Dutch associations.

Cicae unites 3,000 screens by making use of national associations in France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Switzerland and Venezuela and by means of around twenty festivals, also including a few dozen independent cinemas in around twenty countries.The Cicae’s aim is to gain increasing acknowledgement of the arthouse sector by the general public, to find support in national and European political instances – MEDIA in particular – and to contribute to cultural diversity. In order to achieve greater visibility, we have an office in Paris, where our General Delegate Markéta Hodouskova works.

E. T.: How can ‘arthouse’ be defined internationally?


D. R.: It’s a term that assumes different shades of meaning in different countries.

In France and in Italy it’s defined by law according to a criterion of programming percentages in relation to the catchment area concerned, etc..It’s very strictly regulated and defined.In Germany, as in many other countries, arthouse is a category that is not State-regulated.Every arthouse cinema chooses its own programming for artistic and not just commercial reasons,

E. T.: And what are the main issues Cicae is working on?


D. R.: We carry out lobbying work, particularly with the Cultural Commission of the European Parliament and the Commission’s Directorship for Culture and Education. Our most important activity is the training course for exhibitors that is held each year at the same time as the Venice Film Festival, at the beginning of September.

We are active on several fronts: relations between cinema and television, between festivals, distributors and exhibitors, digitalization of cinemas and attention to young audiences, the discovery of new talent, improvements in the distribution of national works in cinemas … but the most difficult part regards the digitalization of cinemas.

E. T.: And is your own cinemas fitted with digital technology?


D. R.: Not yet.France is the only country where, thanks to a legal provision, distributors are obliged to participate in the process of digitalization.In Germany and in many other countries this is not the case.For now, it is mainly the big circuits that are being digitalized in Europe. Yet 90% of the screenings in these cinemas with digital equipment are American blockbusters, increasing still more the market share of films from overseas.

E. T.: How do you see this transition process affecting the Cicae theatres?


D. R.: In France the process should be complete at the end of 2013 or beginning of 2014.In Switzerland the Government will provide funds for the theatres.In Italy, as in Germany, negotiations are still going on.Last year the European Union allocated 2 million euros but the demands for financing are well beyond this figure. It will be difficult to keep the over 30,000 screens now in existence in Europe’s movie theatres.Personally I’m afraid that the small exhibitors will not be able to make it.I don’t understand why the Union has accepted the DCI specifications, which are so costly.

E. T.: What exactly do you mean?


D. R.: Why hasn’t a “DCI light” system been developed for smaller theatres?There are far less expensive professional systems at 30,000 or 40,000 euros.They are not 2K but 1.9K.This would be sufficient for smaller-sized screens…the Americans negotiated with France first and the European Union came afterwards.I think that, unless initiatives are taken at a European level, we shall need a waiver for cinemas which are unable to invest 70,000 euros when their turnover comes to only just above 50,000 euros... Hollywood wants to increase its market share and the studios have no need of small theatres with European programming: they prefer to sell DVDs in countries where the windows are not as tight as it is in France!In addition, the proportions of funding provided by different countries in Europe vary widely and support is given more to the production than to the marketing or exhibition of European films, even though the latter constitute a sector that is vital for the health of European cinema.

E. T.: What is the situation as regards your members in Eastern Europe?


D. R.: It’s a very difficult situation.After the fall of the Berlin Wall, many theatres were abandoned and privatization did not proceed rapidly, because the municipal authorities wanted to manage their own theatres, even though they did not have the means to support them.At the same time multiplexes were built, reinforcing America’s market supremacy.Generally speaking arthouse theatres are single-screen, as for example in Hungary, where the economic means for digital conversion are lacking.There, arthouse cinemas have no access to European films.The latter are of no interest to large-scale distribution and consequently many arthouse exhibitors have also become distributors.This is the only way they are able to offer their audiences European films in their programming.

Interview by Emma Deleva with Detlef Rossmann. The original French version was published in Ecran Total/Cahier des Exploitants, 29 February 2012.