Category: Exhibitors

Thoughts on French Film Exhibition Practice

The UGC Ciné Cité multi-screen cinema in the centre of Lille.

The UGC Cine Cité multi-screen cinema in the centre of Lille.

France has the largest cinema market in Europe with annual audiences consistently above 200 million. Given that France and the UK have roughly the same population, the extra 30 million plus admissions in the former are worth exploring in terms of differences in exhibition structure and practice. On a simple level, France has more screens per head of population suggesting that French audiences have more choice and a shorter distance to travel, wherever they live, than their UK equivalents. It isn’t so much the number of screens, however, but the number of cinema sites.

Cinemas and Screens 2015 (Sources: CNC/BFI)

Cinemas and Screens 2015 (Sources: CNC/BFI)

My impression from these figures (and trips to different parts of France) is that more small cinemas have been retained in small towns in France. In larger towns/cities, existing buildings have been more carefully preserved and turned into small multi-screen venues. Multiplexes seem to have been built in France on out-of-town sites or in new shopping developments, but certainly not on the scale that this has happened in the UK.

The cinema built inside the old Chamber of Commerce building in Amentières

The cinema built inside the old Chamber of Commerce building in Armentières first built in 1881.

This information display outside the cinema shows how the area was before 1914 with the same building in different use.

This information display outside the cinema shows how the area was before 1914 with the same building in different use.

The cinema is now a multiplex showing popular French and American films on its five screens. Armentières is a small town in Picardy with a population of 25,000 within commuting distance of Lille centre.

The cinema is now a multiplex showing popular French and American films on its five screens. Armentières is a small town in Picardy with a population of 25,000 within commuting distance of Lille centre.

The French system puts much greater emphasis on the ‘cinémas art et essai‘, the official designation of the French version of specialised cinema, with emphasis on the concept of art cinema. Each year there is a published list of ‘approved’ films and cinemas that screen these films are able to apply for the ‘art et essai‘ designation which enables them to receive public support. In 2015, 1159 cinemas received the designation (see http://www.art-et-essai.org/7/le-classement-des-salles). The total support came to €14.5 million euros. With 20% of cinema screens subsidised in this way, it’s no surprise that French audiences have easier access to cinema. I do note that the art et essai cinemas are not evenly spread. The figures suggest that the ‘Lille Region’ had only 48 such screens in 2015 while other regions such as Lyon and Bordeaux had over 200. Lille, France’s fourth city/urban region has only three cinemas in the city centre, all of which show a diverse range of films.

Subtitling and dubbing

The real distinction between types of cinemas in France comes with the approach to dubbing. Given that American films had 52% of the market with French films at 35.5%, over 60% of films originated in a language other than French (CNC 2016) – the exact figure depends on how many ‘non-French’ films actually came from francophone countries and how the CNC (Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée) defines a French film. France is one of the four largest European language groups that supports a professional dubbing industry. As in Italy, Germany and Spain (i.e. the FIGS group), all foreign language films can be dubbed into French. Cinema listings show these dubbed films as ‘VF’ (version française). Native French films are also described as VF. ‘VO’ is ‘version originale’ and usually means that the film is subtitled in French, so ‘VOST’ (version originale sous-titrée) or ‘VOSTF’. As the illustration here demonstrates, an out of town multiplex may dub everything not in French, but cinemas in the centre hoping to attract a cinephile audience will play non-French films as ‘VOST’. Children’s films that are not in French, especially animations, will however be dubbed everywhere (as they are in nearly every cinema market).

Lillelistings

A peek through the glass doors of the UGC Ciné Cité in the morning.

A peek through the glass doors of the UGC Ciné Cité in the morning.

Two of the Lille cinemas shown in the listings mag above (i.e. Majestic and Le Métropole) focus primarily on specialised titles but the UGC (see photo above) covers both specialised and mainstream, showing US blockbusters in both dubbed and VOSTF versions. The other two cinemas listed on this page are specialised cinemas for young audiences (L’univers) and for independent film/shorts/documentary (L’Hybride). I find the cinema offer in the centre of Lille to be more diverse than in UK cities of a similar size. I was struck by how comfortable and welcoming the foyer of the UGC seemed to be compared to the soul-destroying emptiness of my local Cineworld in Bradford.

Ciné Sémaphore,  Nîmes

Ciné Sémaphore is the art et essai cinema in the centre of the old city of Nîmes in Southern France which is currently seeking UNESCO World Heritage status. Nîmes has a population of around 146,000 yet it supports this six screen artplex plus a four-screen traditional cinema, Kinepolis ‘Forum’, also in the city centre, and a modern suburban Kinepolis multiplex with 12 screens. The Sémaphore is a cinephile’s dream. The six ‘salons’ come in different sizes and seat 654 in total. I visited one of the smallest (40 seats) and a slightly larger 90 seat screen. There is a pleasant café bar with a good selection of food and the ticket prices are a reasonable €7 (with a full array of the usual discounts). It produces an excellent monthly brochure which includes events for children, students and community groups. Later I discovered that the cinema is one of five owned by the arthouse distributor Haut et Court, having been bought last year – though it still has the feel of a locally-controlled cinema. I also learned that the Sémaphore (which has been open for 38 years) holds an annual ‘British Screen Festival’ in March each year, organised by volunteers – see this English language website.

Sémaphore Cinema, tucked  away on a side street – but well worth discovering.

Sémaphore Cinema, tucked away on a side street – but well worth discovering.

semaphoreposter

Ciné Sémaphore brochure

My experience watching two films in the Sémaphore mirrored my experience in similar cinemas in other parts of France. In the UK we are used to programmes, even in art cinemas, with up to 20 minutes or more of advertisements, trailers and cinema announcements. Increasingly these ‘preambles’ are shown with the houselights partly up (a horrible state of affairs that damages viewing conditions in otherwise good cinemas). As a result, many of us attempt to enter the auditorium at the last minute to avoid the ads. When we arrived a minute or two after the stated start time in the Sémaphore screen, we stumbled into pitch darkness. With difficulty we found the empty few rows at the front. The feature started almost immediately after just one trailer and proceeded in almost complete dark. What a relief after the compulsory bright ‘exit’ lights and seat guidance lights in UK cinemas. I’m not sure how French Health & Safety regulations work but French cinema operators would struggle in the UK. I think the French approach is to make the audience responsible  – i.e. to take their seats before the lights go down.

Sémaphore Salon 5 – comfortable seats, good-sized screen and a great image in the dark!

Sémaphore Salon 5 – comfortable seats, good-sized screen and a great image in the dark!

 

Hail, Caesar! Hail 4K

national-media-museum-bradford-web

Good news for discriminating film buffs – Picturehouse at the National Media Museum are now providing information when films are screening in the higher quality 4K DCPS. Thanks to the actual staff on the ground who have followed up this suggestion. The information is online in the weekly listings. The listings already shows films with Audio Description and in the IMAX format: the staff plan to add information on films in 35mm and when a digital version has 7.1 sound.

So Hail, Caesar! the Coen Brothers film which revisits Capital Pictures (see Barton Fink 1991) and classic Hollywood is in 4K. The film originated on 35mm so 4K will do this more justice, note though, only the Pictureville auditorium has a 4K projector, and that is necessary to project the full quality. Also, this is another film with changing aspect ratios.

Unfortunately, there are still relatively few releases on 4K digital in the UK. Hopefully if exhibitors pay more attention to the issue distributors may up their game.

For 35mm one will have to wait to March 23rd for a screening of Carol in that format. It is definitely worth seeing, the image is lustrous.

‘Reel film’ screenings

whistle down wind

Yes, it is welcome opportunities to see films in their proper format, 35mm. The Hebden Bridge Picture House is starting a regular slot on the first Saturday of the month. And the next feature is the 1961 film, Whistle Down the Wind. This is a fine drama, with location filming in Lancashire by Arthur Ibbetson. Most famously it is one of the films that established Hayley Mills as a star. It was also the first film feature for Alan Bates, the start of an illustrious career on celluloid. There is [as usual in British films] a strong supporting cast and fine music by Malcolm Arnold.

This was one of the production efforts of Richard Attenborough when he was [with colleagues like Bryan Forbes] producing interesting and distinctive British films. It is a children’s story and a parable, very much offering their point-of-view on the adult world. As is often the case, including in a series of British films, this point-of-view asks questions about how adults regard their world. It is a definitely a film to be seen on the big screen.

Then the Hyde Park Picture House have the highly praised Carol on 35mm. This is on the same Saturday as Whistle Down the Wind, but fortunately it is also on the Sunday as well. Carol has been praised for the acting of the two leads, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. But it also has a fine supporting cast and excellent production design by Judy Becker. What should be particularly well served by 35mm is the cinematography of Edward Lachman, who shot the film on Super 16 Kodak film. The adaptation follows closely the very fine novel by Patricia Highsmith, (for me, a fan, possibly her finest) but also adds a couple of significant variations. These serve the cinematic rendering of the story extremely well.

If perchance you miss the latter it is also screening at Picturehouse at the National Media Museum on March 23rd. The bad news so far is that there is no sign of The Hateful Eight on either 70mm or 35mm around West Yorkshire.

The Numbers, UK 2015

Admittedly an event, but also a less familiar sight.

Admittedly an event, but also a less familiar sight.

Charles Gant provides a regular and interesting column in Sight & Sound on the UK / Eire box-office: the inclusion of Eire is one of those anomalies favoured by British capitalists. His latest piece in S&S February 2016 [another anomaly, published at the beginning of January 2016] provides information about the Box Office for 2015, up until December 13. It does however omit films labelled ‘Bollywood’: the best performing of the latter films were Diwale and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. Both of which took over £1.5 million in the UK. The ‘good news’ is

“that admissions [which] dipped significantly [in 2014] bounced back, powered by major hits including SPECTRE (£41 million so far) . . . and Fifty Shades of Grey (over £13 million).”

To these could be added that

“home-grown titles aimed at the older demographic cleaned up at the box office. Maggie Smith featured in two of the year’s biggest – The Second Exotic Marigold Hotel (£16.01 million) and The Lady in the Van (£11.26 million).”

The bad news is that

“It’s in foreign-language film, however, that 2015 recorded the real crushing disappointment. Continuing and deepening the recent downward trend.”

Whereas The Great Beauty in 2013 took over a million pounds, with the exception of the two Hindi films, none did this in 2015. Gant provides a list of the Top-grossing Foreign-Language Films in 2015. Starting at just over £700,000 we have, Wild Tales, followed by Force Majeure, Timbuktu, The Salt of the Earth, The New Girlfriend, The Connection, Girlhood, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch, Marshland and at the end with just under £145,000 Mommy. He adds alongside a list of English-Language Indie/Crossover Titles. In front with over £21 million is The Theory of Everything followed by Legend, Suffragette, Far from the Madding Crowd, Birdman, Sicario, Amy, Brooklyn, Selma and at the end with nearly £3 million Ex Machina. There are so many depressing features here. That Suffragette, which has little notion of the actual movement, took nearly three times the box office of the highly intelligent Selma. That, in particular, the bland Brooklyn, the poorly scripted The Theory of Everything and the incoherent Birdman all took more than either Timbuktu or Girlhood (both in my top ten). The only salve is that the excellent documentary Amy did well. The Editor of S&S, Nick James, comments on this. However, his main thrust is directed towards critics, which I think is misdirected. Just look at IMDB’s numeration of reviews: much criticism is lost in the Tsunami of online reviews. More to the point Gant quotes Louisa Dent of Curzon Artificial Eye: Curzon is involved in both distribution and exhibition. She comments:

“For audiences, it has to be something special for them to go to the cinema.’

This parallels a comment made by a manager at Picturehouses. That appears to be the rationale for their programming. Our local Picturehouse [in Bradford at the National Media Museum] tends to show the sort of films in the foreign-language list once only: and along with what we call classics, these tend to be programmed on a Tuesday evening or on a Sunday afternoon. Though the cinema offers a wider range of programming with a greater number of special screenings and rare films like those of Vera Chtylova, there still seems to be a similar tendency at the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds. The latter cinema obtains its films through Picturehouses and another problem is that the Hyde Park tends to the same days and sessions, Tuesdays and Sundays for these films. Single screenings of a particular film [unless it is had extras, like musicians or Q&As] seem to me to be an anachronism. And in parallel fashion the two proper independent exhibitors sited only twelve miles apart competing at the same time is unhelpful. Once upon a time there was an exhibitor’s forum for Yorkshire, though there were more independent outlets then. This apparent lack of cooperation leads to the films we miss: as Roy has noted Hard to be a God has yet to enjoy a screening in West Yorkshire. And that applies equally in a cinematic format to the BFI re-issue of the 1967 Far From the Madding Crowd. The latter could rely on at least one distinguished audience member, because it is much more faithful to Thomas Hardy’s own version. Roy, in his pick of the year, thought West Yorkshire did quite well. I disagree: Manchester’s Home and Sheffield’ Showroom both screened the two films we missed, and both tend to multiple screenings. Gant also notes that

“With all of Curzon’s titles now available on its Curzon Home Cinema platform the same day as theatrical release.”

The latter policy not only undermines the firm’s own exhibition chain but it ignores the future: as potential viewers switch to online downloading. There appears to be a lemming-like drive amongst the UK companies involved in film distribution and exhibition towards the ‘popular’. So we get extended runs of films like Carol and Joy. The former is excellent, the latter sounds so, But both are in multiplexes, who I bet will win out in the competition. Meanwhile Angela Jolie’s interesting By the Sea only turned up in Leeds at the Showcase multiplex: yet it looked exactly like an independent exhibitor film. Gant and James are right to be depressed. And Roy writes on another aspect of this downward spiral. Still, time will tell. I listened this afternoon to the excellent Ian Christie in a Radio 3 discussion that I taped. He remarked that: “The death of cinema has been forecast many times, but it is still alive’. Let us hope he can repeat that line in the future.

Missing movies!

empty-cinema-and-white-screen

This has not been a great week. I feel rather like Walter on the receiving end from Steve Jobs (2015).

First I looked in the Picture House PH magazine. On December 8th their screening was to be All About Them / À trois on y va (2015) in their Discover Tuesdays slot. Then I checked the individual brochure for Picture House at the National Media Museum and found ‘Discover Tuesdays takes a break’. This film got a warm reception at the Leeds International Film Festival and is an enjoyable French comedy: French films do well in the art film market in the UK?

Worst was to follow.

I am waiting to see Hard to be a God / Trudno byt bogom (2013) which was voted joint number 14 in the annual Sight & Sound Poll. It was screened at the Sheffield Showroom in late August. I thought I could catch it in Leeds later. As a famous Julia Robert’s characterisation opined, ‘Big Mistake!’ To date there is not one exhibitor in West Yorkshire with the film listed for a screening. It is in PH for December 22nd, but again the local brochure has ‘Discover Tuesdays takes a break’. Are the cinemas all hired out by Kit-Kat?

The film is screening at the PH City Screen in York. However, it only starts after 8 p.m., and this is a three hour film. Problematic for train or bus, and even for car as the city Park and Ride closes down at 10 p.m.

Finally we have the re-issue of Doctor Zhivago (1965), admittedly on DCP. However when I checked with BFI Information [who responded promptly), they advised ‘It’s 4K as long as it’s in a cinema that has a 4K projector, otherwise it will be 2K’. So PH at the National Media Museum have 4K projection in Pictureville and 2K Projection in Cubby Broccoli. The single screening of this release is in Cubby! Added to this the screen in Cubby is about half the size of the one in Pictureville and Zhivago is definitely a large screen film.

Apparently all this is due to ‘live transmissions’ being accommodated in the programme. Roy has written at length about the problems this is causing. I tend to think that this sort of programming is here to stay, it is an important economic stream for exhibitors. But does it need to have such a disastrous impact on film programming?

PH has this Discover Tuesday and tend to place ‘art films’ in this slot. And they have Vintage Cinema on Sundays. Whilst some of their cinemas do have additional screening, for example City Screen in York, the tendency is for single screenings. Something  similar happens at the Hyde Park Picture House, whose booking is done by PH: but the HPPH is more flexible. I have seen vintage films on Thursday and Saturdays there. This assumption that the whole audience can be accommodated at one screening is clearly ludicrous.

Meanwhile inexorable films like Steve Jobs, bland films like Brooklyn (2015), or accomplished films like Carol (2015), occupy screens for a whole week or longer. Roy refers to the 700 or so films that manage a UK release: there are many other which do not pass this hurdle. When these cinemas programmed on a repertory basis there were opportunities to see such films over several screenings and the variety of films was superior.

Part of the problem is that many film fans are content to see films at home on DVD or Blu-Ray. When I looked up Hard to be a God on the Internet I found a bevy of adverts/reviews for Blu-Ray. I rather hope that readers of this blog are convinced that cinematic viewings are superior. However, if you go along to the Everyman chain that will be debatable. And whilst the Vue chain is more like a cinema their irritating custom of leaving houselights partly on does not help. I know there will be disagreements, but DCP is in effect a high quality video projection: hence cinemas often get away with running DVDs and Blu-Rays rather than theatrical DCPs. Moreover I have yet to find a source that consistently provides the information as to whether a release is in 2K or 4K DCP. If enough film buffs actually made their views known to the distributors and exhibitors we might stem the tide to a degree.

On Mobile Phones:

screen_shot_20091120_at_2_11_11_pmmobile

I have just returned from an International Film Festival full of archivists, academics and knowledgeable film fans. It was a great week but I was rather concerned that even there we had problems with Mobile Phones, Tablets and similar. Before each session an onscreen message in English and Italian warned audience members to ‘switch off their mobiles’! Clearly some people are impervious to persuasion.

These electronic devices have become a minor plague in cinemas and the like. Apparently it is even worse in some London theatres. The screening theatre at the Festival has an ‘opera style’ auditorium with three balconies – I suggested that the top one could be turned into a ‘sin bin’.

Unfortunately that is not an option in the venues I attend here in West Yorkshire. It has rather worried me that fewer and fewer venues actually screen a warning about their use. Recently only the Cottage Road in Leeds has had an admonition . So I was heartened by the new pre-screen trailer produced by the Picture House chain. Well executed but short, it not only admonishes regarding answering mobile phones but also lighting up the screens during a performance. Of course, such warnings are only partially effective. So I would be glad to hear from readers with suggestions about how to deal with recalcitrant ‘techies’.

Note – Cinemas subscribing to Pearl and Dean now have a new advert which appears after the trailers and just before the feature. It is an advert for Sony products, including those electronic devices that disrupt film screenings. There is no admonition about running them off or keeping them off through the entire film!

The other side of film in Europe

image

The current window display in the Kinoteka located in the Diocletian Palace in Split. It is open but there are building works ongoing.

In the UK we’ve got used to 12 new film releases each week (600-700 per year) and to have cinema screens easily accessible in most cities and large towns. It’s quite a shock to be in Croatia and to discover that only the largest centres have cinemas and that these rarely open during the day.

Croatia has a population of 4.3 million and in 2014 the country’s 59 cinemas (153 screens in 2013) had less than 4 million admissions. The number of cinema visits per head is thus usually less than one per year. The comparable figure in the European countries with the highest admissions rates, in France, UK, Ireland and Iceland, is 2 to 3 per year or more.

In Split, Croatia’s second city with a population of over 220,000, there are two modern multiplexes in shopping malls and one older cinema in the tourist area. Split is lucky to also have two art cinemas but one seems to be ‘part time’ and the other has a single screen – the Kinoteka (see above) is an important part of the city’s cultural offer. But both the art cinemas and the multiplexes need more promotion to create a higher profile. It took a long time to find the two cinemas nearest to the tourist centre in the old town and when we did find them there was very little ‘point of sale’ information. If you didn’t know the cinemas were there you wouldn’t stumble across them. On the other hand, the newspaper on sale in Dalmatia – coastal Croatia – does list the main cinemas, something many UK papers have stopped doing. These cinemas also seem to only programme evening screenings. The earliest shows I could find were some ‘family shows’ at 15.00 but most were only at 17.00 or 19.00 and then later.

Cinema listings in Dalmatia for 23rd September.

Cinema listings in major Croatian towns/cities (outside the Zagreb region) for 23rd September.

Most of the commercial offerings are Hollywood films subtitled, I presume, for local audiences but there are also some examples of local films and this is the norm for the country according to the Film New Europe website profile. In 2014 there were 169 films released in Croatia including seven local productions. The Film New Europe profile alongside those from Cineuropa and aspects of European AudioVisual Observatory reports suggest that the Croation government have supported the industry in various ways helping with installation of digital projection and offering support to productions, cinemas and festivals. There are twelve Croatian cinemas listed in the Europa Cinemas Network. These are all cinemas with some kind of commitment to ‘cultural cinema’ and will be expected to show European films as part of their programming. The Kinoteka in Split is one of these. My research suggests that there are several municipally-owned cinemas in the country and the film festivals in Split do, I think, receive public support. (With my usual bad luck I missed the latest festival in Split by a few days.)

The Kinoteka has been showing French New Wave films with a revival of Jacques Demys Les paraplieues de Cherbourg. The larger poster refers to the latest Croatian film shown at Cannes, Zvizdan

The Kinoteka has been showing French New Wave films with a revival of Jacques Demy’s Les parapluies de Cherbourg. The larger poster refers to the latest Croatian film shown at Cannes, Dalibor Matanic’s Zvizdan (The High Sun).

My comments above are not intended as negative criticism of the cinemas or Croatian film policy. I’m interested in different approaches to film across Europe. My impression (as a tourist) is that Croatia still maintains an interest in European art cinema like other parts of the former Yugoslavia but that popular cinema doesn’t have the same appeal as in some other European countries. I was interested to see that the newspaper listings of films on TV gave the director’s name – something that again UK newspapers tend not to do routinely. The difference between the UK and Croatia is also noticeable in terms of ‘holiday viewing’. In North America the summer is the longest major season of blockbuster cinema and audiences flock to see the big films in air-conditioned cinemas open from mid morning. In the UK we’ve been more or less forced to follow suit but ironically when the sun comes out we tend to want to stay outside. In Southern Europe and especially in Italy, the summer was the worst season for big films until the new multiplexes with air-conditioning appeared as an alternative to outdoor evening screenings. In the UK, seaside holiday resorts have always tried to exploit the seasonal ‘captive audience’ and because of the unpredictable British weather cinemas have prospered with matinees on wet days. This is where I most felt the lack in Croatia – a wet day with little to do and no cinema within 20 kms – and then with no matinee showings.

It would be good to hear from readers about their holiday destinations and their impressions of local film culture. I really liked everything about Croatia – except the lack of opportunity to see films! The Number 1 film in Croatia last week was Labirint: Kroz spaljenu zemljuMaze Runner: The Scorch Trials. In Split I could have chosen between Catherine Deneuve in the Demy and Emily Blunt in Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, which doesn’t open in the UK until October 8th.

Scalarama 2015

Scalarama heading

This ‘unofficial month of cinema’ runs throughout September. Following the mantra ‘Go forth and fill the land with cinemas’ there is a varied range of events in major urban areas in England, Wales and Scotland: there is also an event listed in the north of Ireland. To help punters there is a free Newspaper which includes listings which can be found at the various venues: in Leeds I pick one up at the Hyde Park Picture House and at the Arch Cafe.

As well as listings the Newspaper includes a range of articles on the various forms of cinema. The filmmaker Peter Strickland looks back at his experiences, including visiting one of the key venues for alternative and counter cinemas, The Scala. I remember many fine screenings there, including great all-nighters. Other writers sing the praises of 35mm, digital and [even] VHS. This is cinema in all its shapes and guises.

There are articles on some of the key films and filmmakers. There is an appraisal of the John Waters retrospective in London. And there is a profile of Shirley Clarke, whose Ornette Coleman: Made in America (1985) is screening at the Hyde Park Picture House. There is a London screening of The Bofors Gun (1968), directed by the recently demised Jack Gold. Also at the Hyde Park is La Grande Bouffe (1973), a film that rather puts John Waters in the shade. Manchester Home is screening Pasolini’s Saló, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) on 35mm: this is not porn but serious filmmaking, however, it is one of the toughest screenings that I have ever sat through. And there are a really great range of films and filmmakers on offer, including radical film events.

Apart from the Newspaper there is an impressive website which enables one to track down films, venues and events. Given the range of exhibition the festival will offer a whole range of formats, some of which are not strictly theatrical. Helpfully, the newspaper lists the screening using 35mm: the format on which most of the material on offer originated.

It is good to see this Festival continuing to thrive and the range of exhibitors, film groups and enthusiasts participating. As the website recommends: ‘Vote for Cinema’, turn up to as many of these treats as possible.

Note, check the Webpages and fresh events are being added: and check events locally, I have discovered a couple of minor errors in the Newspaper.