Over the last two years, Agnès Salson and Mikael Arnal travelled across Europe looking for innovative practices in independent cinema exhibition. Starting in France, they eventually crossed twenty countries, meeting more than 200 cinemas. At the end of the French Tour they published Rêver les cinemas, demain (Dream the cinemas, tomorrow) a book detailing their journey, and following the European journey they published “The emerging practices of cinema exhibition in Europe” report for the CNC (National Centre for Cinema – France). When they started this project, they wanted to find inspiration and advice to create their own cinema but they also wanted to answer a question: What will the independent cinema of tomorrow be like? Here are five ideas they brought back from their journey that are changing cinemas across Europe.
1. Putting the audience at the heart of cinema
Digital tools allow a new proximity between audiences and cinemas, which now, more than ever, involve their audiences in the life of the venue, forming an active community around the cinema. The audience can leave their mark on the venue, both through using it and feeling that they are part of it by enriching it with their own contributions. From taking a financial stake in supporting the place to a collaboration in its programming or atmosphere, the public are playing an ever more active role in the life of their local cinemas.
- At the Numax in Santiago de Compostela (Spain), which opened in March 2015, people helped to finance the cinema by guaranteeing the loan needed for its construction.
- The Postmodernissimo in Perugia (Italy) and the Wolf in Berlin (Germany) managed to raise €20,000 and €50,000 respectively through crowdfunding campaigns, building a community in the process.
- On the island of Mallorca, the cinema Cineciutat was taken over by the citizens when it was shut down. Its members now manage the cinema and it has become a pioneering experiment of a self-management model.
- Deptford Cinema, a community cinema created in South-East London in 2014, was built completely by volunteers during so-called ‘Building Weeks’, where volunteers would work together to offer their skills and knowledge to the project, whether this was to build a wall or to set up sound insulation in the auditorium. There are now more than 700 people who volunteer their time for the cinema and anybody who wants to organise a screening or an event is free to do so.
2. To be more than a cinema
Cinemas today are more than screening spaces. Besides the screening room as a space for showing films, the auxiliary spaces play a fundamental role in the venue’s identity. The audience member must have a desire to come before the session and stay after the credits roll, and social spaces play a key role in this. Adding catering, shops, co-working and post-production spaces to a cinema offers additional financial benefits but also presents an opportunity to capture new visitors by offering them these new services. The varied sources of income offer unprecedented flexibility to places previously entirely dependent on ticket sales.
- In Amsterdam, entry to most independent cinemas is through their own bar, which is the venue’s social hub. Each café or restaurant has its own identity: Kriterion and Studio K, two student-run cinemas, have dynamic cafés, mainly attended by young people; De Balie, which specialises in documentaries and debates, has a vast restaurant; The Movies has its own pub; the Het Ketelhuis and Rialto have café/restaurants, etc.
- The Close Up Film Centre in London has a library with a catalogue of 20,000 films and books, making it the most comprehensive independent film resource in London for film enthusiasts and students and the bookstores of the Numax (Spain) and the Kinodvor (Slovenia) have everything a cinema lover could want: a fine selection of books, magazines and films.
3. The cinema as an active participant in creative production
While the cinema is undeniably part of cinematographic culture, it is traditionally one of the last links in the creative process. The emergence of cinemas – or cinema projects – incorporating the content production demonstrates a desire for cinemas to play a greater role in the audiovisual landscape that goes beyond screening work. From this desire there are new ecosystems for supporting emerging talents appearing. The cinema’s position in the community already makes it a natural place for decentralised talent scouting, and the democratisation of filmmaking tools allows for a greater exploration of the potential of cinemas to support creative production.
- The Kino in Rotterdam (Netherlands), which opened in 2016, is a real cinema hub housing several screens and a bistro on the ground floor and co-working spaces on the upper level, allowing anyone working in the audiovisual sector to work together in the same space.
- The Wolf in Berlin (Germany), which launched in 2017, offers post-production spaces inviting filmmakers to finish their films on its premises.
- The Watershed in Bristol created the Pervasive Media Studio, a space where a community of artists, creative companies, technologists and academics work together.
- The Dokukino in Zagreb (Croatia), which has a programme entirely dedicated to documentary films, produces documentary films and has even set up a school to train young documentary filmmakers.
- Open Screenings are organized in cinemas like the Sputnik in Berlin (Germany), the Nova in Brussels (Belgium) and the Deptford Cinema in London (UK). These are opportunities for filmmakers to present their work to an audience without relying on old modes of exhibition through festivals. Often free, these screenings enable directors to get feedback from an audience and from other filmmakers.
4. Bringing new forms of content to the big screen
Since the transition to digital, alternative content (concerts, opera performances, museum visits etc) has been an area of major development. But such event cinema was only the beginning. TV series, video clips, virtual reality, video games, radio podcasts and collective listening sessions are now finding their way to the big screen in numerous cinemas, highlighting their role as trailblazers in expanding the communal aspects of old and new forms of media.
- Il Kino in Berlin broadcasted Heimat from Edgar Reitz every Sunday during eleven weeks for the opening of their cinema.
- In Amsterdam, the VR Cinema, entirely dedicated to virtual reality, opened in 2016.
- The Toldi Mozi in Budapest, which has a concert venue, organises music video screenings to complement their concerts and programming.
- The Gloria in Copenhagen hosts the Copenhagen Radio Cinema (Københavns Radiobiograf) which organizes a monthly radio listening sessions with compilations of recorded programmes worldwide.
- The Cinema Bellevaux in Lausanne in Switzerland organises CD listening sessions in partnership with music labels for the release of new albums.
5. Cooperation as a central philosophy
Whether it be setting up formal knowledge sharing networks or informal co-operation between cinemas in the same region, we have found a common desire to work together outside of territorial competition and to exploit potential mutual benefits. Sharing experiences between cinemas is crucial to enabling feedback and adapting quickly to new uses of cinemas and new models of film exhibition.
- The Cineville Pass, an unlimited pass for independent cinemas in Netherlands, was created in 2009 by two young students working in Kriterion cinema. Cineville is not just a model of unlimited pass but also a website that promotes a new image of arthouse movies and cinemas through a team of young editors.
- Kino za Rogiem (“Cinema at the corner of the street”) is an organization in Poland that supports the creation of “small” cinemas in existing infrastructure such as a libraries, cultural centres, fire stations and cafés. They want to grow a network of small cinema rooms, with reduced costs to operate and maintain, but of undeniable quality, providing an alternative offer to meet new cultural needs.
- Initiated by Cineciutat in Palma de Mallorca, Cinearte is an arthouse cinema network uniting more than 30 cinemas in Spain thus far, promoting arthouse film through educational and promotional programmes. The network aims to improve the process by promoting initiatives and practices that have contributed to the emergence of the new generation of cinemas but also to create a viable ecosystem of production and diffusion of independent cinema on Spanish territory.