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.
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.)
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 zemlju – Maze 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.
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.
We have had quite a number of postings on this Blog that take the multiplex sector to task. So it seems only fair to give any company credit for positive innovation. Recently the Vue chain has added an additional page of information on its websites:
Here are your 4K films and times.
It is reached by a link on the right hand side of the ‘What’s on’ page, under ‘narrow your search’ and ‘sony 4K’. This is good news because it struck me a long time ago that it was rather frustrating to read adverts about 4K projection when there was no equivalent information about the DCPs which were source.
However, this addition also points up the really stingy approach of the distribution and exhibitions sectors – the next 4K DCP is, apparently, the film advertised at the top and only due on September 29th 2015 and for a single screening.
The most that can be hoped for, I suppose, is that some other exhibitors might follow Vue’s example. Then at least we will know about the few higher standard screenings available.
A couple of weeks ago I was in a multiplex. It was one of those chains where they force you to buy a ticket for your seat at the same time as they try to force concessions down your throat. The woman in front of me had a small child who pestered her (no, that’s unfair, she asked nicely) for something to eat and something to drink. This took several minutes while the counter clerk scurried between various sticky gadgets squeezing out different kinds of junk. One particular machine was on the blink and the operation had to be repeated several times. In the meantime, feeling restless I tried to move my feet only to find them stuck to the floor. The woman protested to the poor girl behind the counter who explained she’d mopped the floor twice but someone else must have spilt cola. Eventually the woman got her tickets – an adult and a child for an early Saturday evening showing of Jurassic World. The total cost for the ticket and concessions was nearly £31. I’m guessing the tickets cost £13 or £14 for the two, including a premium to see a new film on the opening weekend. That means around £18 was spent on popcorn, cola and something else I couldn’t see. Eventually we all prized our feet from the floor and I paid £15 for two Senior tickets (this was Scotland not London – but still more expensive than Bradford) to see Spy.
This was a small 8 screen multiplex. The auditorium was healthily filled at around 60% for an 18.00 hours screening. It was clean, the seats were comfortable, the projection was fine and we enjoyed the film. Everyone behaved well and no phones went off. It was a pleasurable visit marred only by the wait to buy a ticket and the sticky floor. My real problem is with the pricing policies, the crap food and drink and the treatment of punters at the counter (for which I don’t blame the staff). This little incident underlines the fact that the chains make half their profit from popcorn and it doesn’t really matter what they show as long as people come – and they buy concessions.
At around £8 average for a standard ticket (going up to £15-17 in some parts of London’s West End) the UK now has some of the highest ticket prices in the world. The premiums for 3D, new films etc. are a rip-off. The chains should be thinking of lowering prices to bring audiences back. Cinema is not the worst entertainment offender on pricing. Back in the 1960s, when cinema was still a mass entertainment form in the UK, three things that working-class youth liked to spend its wages on all cost more or less the same. A First Division football match, a stalls seat in the cinema and a pint of beer all cost between ‘One and nine’ and ‘half a crown’ (8p and 12.5p – most young people earned less than £15 a week). The equivalent now might be £30-£50 for the Premier League, £8 for a cinema ticket and £3.50 (or less) for a pint. And we thought it was the brewers who were screwing us!
I don’t like the popcorn cinemas sell. But I recognise that people enjoy it. The real gripe is the amount of sugar, fat and salt in it and the ‘supersize me’ portions. Mostly these are too big and quite a lot of it gets left on the cinema floor. The other gripe is that the punters are being royally duped. They pay pounds for a foodstuff that costs pennies. The chains have to make a profit but film culture would be much healthier if the profits came because of high demand for films that people really want to see. In the current business model that isn’t the case. Admissions in the UK (and the US) are not rising, even though the population is growing. The exhibition sector is heading for the buffers unless it can attract more admissions.
The specialised sector is just as bad. The ticket prices are, in the newer cinemas, even higher and the emphasis is still on food and drink even if it is marginally more healthy food. The Everyman chain seems to be the worst offender in the UK. As one friend told me after being enticed into the Everyman in Leeds, it took him some time to realise that, yes it was a cinema, not a restaurant. I ought to write something about this outfit. Much of my film education was spent in the Everyman in Hampstead, one of the best repertory cinemas the UK has ever seen. The new owners from 2000 have taken the brand and created a chain of new and ‘acquired’ ’boutique cinemas’. The chain claims to be reviving ‘independent cinema’ but as far as I can see shows mainly Hollywood films and live theatre. It advertises its menus alongside its film titles and seems more interested in promoting armchairs and access to bars than anything to do with film culture. Some of the cinemas it acquired include those revived in the 1970s by Romaine Hart including the Screen on the Green in Islington and the Screen on the Hill at Belsize Park (see Anne Billson’s blog for a little entertaining history of the cinema built on the site of the Haverstock Hill Odeon). Now Everyman has got its hands on the great old Odeon at Muswell Hill. These are some of the most important cinemas in my viewing memories – I feel violated in some way. If you have an independent cinema near you, make sure you support it and try to keep it out of the hands of a chain.
I don’t like watching films on a TV screen so my fears about exhibitors are disturbing on a fundamental level. Fortunately for me there is one example of a publicly-funded local independent where with tons of leg-room, a proper mug of tea, a slice of cake and an eclectic film programme, I can really relax and watch a film on a big screen at a very reasonable price. Long may the Hebden Bridge Picture House (not part of the Picturehouses chain) thrive.