The lasting effects of the pandemic and skyrocketing energy prices in Europe mean continued hardships for arthouse cinemas in Europe, but some theater chains are finding new ways to survive and thrive, especially when the movies work their magic.
That was the takeaway at the Zurich summit between Christian Bräuer, director of Berlin-based Yorck Kinogruppe; David Laub, acquisition and distribution manager at A24 in New York City; Stephanie Candinas, co-director of Arthouse Commercio Movie AG in Zurich; and Kirsten Figeroid of Sierra/Affinity.
“The short-term perspective is about gas prices — that’s what threatens us the most,” Bräuer said. “In Europe most theaters have survived [the pandemic] thanks to public support. Without public support, many small theaters, arthouse theaters, would have to close.”
However, the energy crisis could pose a much greater threat as theaters face gas prices that have increased fivefold, which many smaller operators cannot afford.
Bräuer nevertheless expressed optimism. “Many people have worked very hard to preserve and help cinemas survive. And of course we need their support now. Without them we have no chance. Or maybe some theaters will have to close because they can’t afford their energy prices.”
The energy crisis has exacerbated an already delicate situation.
“Of course a lot has changed in the market. Two long lockdowns, collapsing windows, etc – it’s more than we could have ever imagined. But I do believe that curation is key, especially as there is more and more audiovisual content.”
Arthouse cinemas in particular can benefit from an established brand, he added.
Despite the proliferation and consumption of internet offerings, even among the elderly, there remains “a need for the analog space,” Bräuer emphasized. “That is our unique selling point.”
Indeed, Bräuer claimed that cinema appeals to a much more fundamental human instinct than other forms of digital entertainment.
“Society has changed, our market has completely changed. But what hasn’t changed is the cinema experience itself. We still sell strangers in a dark room watching movies and flickering lights – it’s a longing for a campfire.”
To meet the challenges of attracting young moviegoers, Bräuer said cinemas needed to be branded and communicate about films with digital natives “in their own language”.
“A lot is changing, but we have to be careful: it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. … With an older audience, of course, we have to work harder to bring them back. We won’t bring them all back, I’m sure. But I’m even more optimistic about the younger generation, because that’s our future.”
In addition to an extensive online presence, including a guest service that offers movie recommendations by phone or email, Yorck also offers a one-year subscription service that costs €19.90 ($19.28) per month, allowing customers to watch as many movies as they want. whenever they want, Bräuer explained.
Candinas noted that Arthouse Commercio offered similar services in an effort to strengthen its brand and build community, in part by also bringing in filmmakers to discuss their films with audiences.
Laub offered an optimistic assessment, saying the success of major mainstream films bodes well for smaller films as well.
“While arthouse movies are struggling and specialty distribution is in a different place than it was before the pandemic, I think the general trend we’re seeing is people returning to movie theaters and the success of bigger movies and blockbusters is a good thing.” is – it feels like a good thing for the film industry in general.”
Laub added that people clearly still care about the cinema experience, otherwise theaters would not have survived the COVID-19 crisis.
“The pandemic was the perfect excuse to get rid of the cinemas and the theater experience, and that didn’t happen. And people are excited to go to the cinema.”
Pointing to the extraordinary success of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s indie hit “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which brought young viewers to arthouse cinemas in droves, Laub stressed that although it is a film that is “more creative and different” than the standard comic book movies, it has a similar appeal and is also an original and unique movie.
Figeroid noted that the pandemic and the ongoing political situation in that world have certainly had an impact on the films Sierra/Affinity plans to produce and fund.
“Two different things: a feel-good experience or absolute escapism is what works best now. Trying to tell a story that is depressing, dark, war – we see that in the news all the time. We don’t need any more of it in our entertainment.”