Reopening Europe's Cinemas: Part Two

Posted on August 20, 2020 by Katriina Miola

Categories: General

Across many countries in Europe, the process of reopening cinemas has begun. Curious to find out about this experience after months of closure, CICAE asked some of their members how it went. We’ll be sharing several of their responses in a series of two blogs featuring cinemas in countries across Europe. To read the responses in full, head to CICAE’s website.

In Part Two, Katriina Miola from CICAE speaks to staff from cinemas in France, Italy and the Netherlands about their reopening experiences.

A crane lifts a person to a cinema exterior where they affix a large sign saying: 'Happy to see you again'
Preparing for reopening at Chassé Cinema, Breda. Photo credit: Chassé Cinema.
How was your reopening experience? How did your audience react?

Peggy Vallet, director of Cinéma Le Studio in Aubervilliers, France

Our reopening has been complicated, as has been the case with all cinemas. The audience has come back to an extent, but it’s been difficult to resume operations with a thinner programme, new safety measures in place, smaller groups and no evening meetings. Our cinema is above all a place of exchange and conviviality, but for now we are unable to provide these essential moments.

Our audience was happy to see us again, especially the regulars. They sometimes still have a little trouble getting used to the new rules (wearing masks in high-traffic areas mainly), but they are willing to comply and are coming back little by little. For the first screening, we welcomed them with home-made cakes and drinks, which they appreciated.

Roderik Lentz, head of programming at LantarenVenster in Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Reopening our cinema on 1 June went quite smoothly. We made a one-way system in our building which was very clear to the audience and worked well. The audience was happy and grateful to be back.

We started with a marketing campaign ‘we draaien weer’, which means something like ‘We’re Operational Again’ (but we use the same word in Dutch for rolling a film). Thanks to the digital platform Picl we stayed in touch with our audience with new online releases during  lockdown.

2,200 people bought a ticket in the first week. That’s compared with 3,600 people in the same week in June 2019, so we’re quite happy. We started our program with fifteen films: eight old films that were released in February or March, and seven new releases. The second week admissions went down to 1,400, but that’s partly because the weather was lovely.

Casper Houtman, cinema manager at Chassé Cinema in Breda, the Netherlands

After a long period of uncertainty, the reopening was a relief for our cinema. Due to the social distancing restrictions we really had to invent a new way for the visitors to experience our venue. At first it was mostly practical and hygienic concerns, but as the days went by and our experience grew we managed to create a pretty comfortable cinema experience again. The initial reaction from the audience was great. The visitors let us know that they found the new precautionary measures very thorough and thus gave them a feeling of safety. In the end it really feels like we started a new cinema from scratch, but with all the expertise we already had in-house!

Paola Corti and Monica Naldi, owners of Cinema Beltrade in Milano, Italy

We were happy but also very agitated, then the audience arrived with a lot of calmness and a desire to return to the cinema and they gave us their energy. We were encouraged to see that all age groups of cinemagoers came.

The exterior of a cinema, large letters are stuck to the window which spell out: 'We draaien weer!'
The outside of LantarenVenster in Rotterdam, the phrase roughly translates to ‘We’re Operational Again!’. Photo credit: LantarenVenster
Have there been any unforeseen difficulties in reopening?

Peggy Vallet, director of Cinéma Le Studio in Aubervilliers, France

We have to ask ourselves questions we didn’t ask ourselves before: can we still produce a physical programme? When we rent out the auditorium, to what extent can we intervene to ask the customers to respect the sanitary rules? How can we convince the majority of our visitors to pay by card even for small amounts?

We wanted to set up a paperless ticketing system, but this proved to be more complicated than expected. Playing the role of ‘police’ to ensure the sanitary rules are respected is not something we are used to, or that we particularly like…

Casper Houtman, cinema manager at Chassé Cinema in Breda, the Netherlands

Although I don’t really want to focus on the negative things, we were amazed by some people who didn’t comply with the precautionary measures. They felt it was a threat to their being, and held an anti-authoritarian stance. In those cases we had to reiterate that we were only able to open with these measures in place. But hey, in the end everybody left happy and sanitised again!

Paola Corti and Monica Naldi, owners of Cinema Beltrade in Milano, Italy

It was difficult to deal with the succession of different news about the rules on reopening and the measures that needed to be in place. The rules themselves, beyond the economic aspect, were a source of anxiety at first but after a few days we got used to them. There remains some certain complications, such as having to keep track of people, and in assigning seating in the auditorium with the added variable of family groups. Then for Italy there is the seasonality: the sun came out, it became very hot and people had little desire to stay in closed places, particularly after a period of quarantine. But this was an expected problem.

An audience, seated apart from each other, wait for a film to begin inside a cinema auditorium.
A socially distanced audience at Chassé Cinema, Breda. Photo credit: Chassé Cinema.
How did you implement the security and health guidelines given by the authorities of your country?

Peggy Vallet, director of Cinéma Le Studio in Aubervilliers, France

We initially reduced the capacity of the auditorium by 50%, as indicated. We are still maintaining it unofficially, because the new guidelines are not very clear. We follow the rest of the instructions to the letter: wearing of masks in high-traffic areas, regular cleaning of public areas, provision of hand-sanitiser for our visitors, ventilation of the auditorium for 30 minutes between each screening etc.

Casper Houtman, cinema manager at Chassé Cinema in Breda, the Netherlands

To give people an idea of what to expect when returning to our venue, we made an informative film about the safety measures which is sent to our customers in advance and is shown before each screening.

Roderik Lentz, head of programming at LantarenVenster in Rotterdam, the Netherlands

According to the rules in the Netherlands, a distance of 1.5m between people is required at all times and initially only 30 people were allowed per room. We’re very fortunate to have a big foyer and restaurant so we had no problem with this as it is easy to keep away from other people. I have heard from smaller cinemas with narrow hallways that that’s their biggest problem.

After the screening the audience has to leave through the back door (which isn’t very nice, but necessary). From 1 July we were allowed 100 people per room, but with 1.5m distance between them, that’s still 30-40 people per auditorium of 100-120 seats. The exception is for the big auditorium where we can seat up to 80 people from 250 seats.

An audience sit seated apart in a cinema auditorium. The seats are marked with a heart where it is safe to sit.
A socially distanced audience at LantarenVenster in Rotterdam. Photo credit: LantarenVenster.
What are your biggest concerns for the next few months?

Roderik Lentz, head of programming at LantarenVenster in Rotterdam, the Netherlands

  • Finance: how are we going to survive the future? We have lost about €420,000 in box-office (based on the same period last year), plus a lot of money from the bar and restaurant.
  • The quality of films. Not many big titles are going to be released in the next few months.
  • Special screenings (classics, events, or screenings with guests or talks) are usually expensive to produce and have a higher screening fee. Usually we can cover the costs by selling 200-250 tickets in our largest screen, but that’s not possible at the moment. So from an artistic point of view, it makes our programme poorer.
  • People come to our cinema for a nice evening in the town in a vibrant environment. Will they keep coming back to a big empty space? Will it still be attractive to keep going to the cinema?

We thank CICAE for providing the content for this blog series. To read the featured cinemas’ responses in full, head to the CICAE website. To read Part One in this blog series, click here.

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