"Threats to the Art-house Sector
When the first multiplexes opened, it was feared their development would be detrimental to existing cinemas, particularly in the art-house sector. Yet countries such as Belgium and the UK have enjoyed a resurgence of activity both in mainstream and art-house cinemas. [..] It was also noted that the resurgence of cinemagoing in a multiplex's cathchment area had 'given the older establishment an incentive to modernise, and in certain cases, to increase their capacity'. [..]
Over the last decade, independent exhibitors across Europe have felt squeezed by the tendency of the major industry players to build their own circuits and/or forge programming alliances with smaller distributors. The impact of multiplexes on smaller exhibitors is not only evident in areas of low-density population but also in major cities, even in countries that operate support mechanisms for independents. Smaller exhibitors operating sites are now finding that, in certain regions close to overcapacity, they are in direct competition with multiplex operators who have started to screen art-house product to attract new audiences.
[..] 'What happened in the food distribution sector and in the music world should have served as a warning to art et essai cinema operators' [..] Even in Paris, a city reputed as enjoying 'the widest menu of films on offer at any given moment to the public in any city in the world' is now being affected. [..]
Many independent exhibitors, on the other hand, emphasise the cultural, social and educational role of the cinema rather than profitability, seeing their role as programmers rather than managers. [..]"
"The state of film exhibition in the East is very different to that of the European Union. Declining levels of local production since 1990, along with the progressive closure of dilapidated cinemas, has led to a dramatic fall in admissions in most Central and Eastern territories. Between 1989 and 1998, average cinema visits per person per annum dropped from 6.6 to 1.4 in Hungary, 6.7 to 0.6 in Latvia, and from 8.8 to 0.3 in Romania. This pattern meant that by the end of the millennium, the Bulgarian and Romanian markets had almost entirely collapsed.
[..] Poland has been the fastest-growing market. [..] Romania saw its first multiplex cinema open on the outskirts of Bucharest in 2000. [..]"
"With several European films now receiving the same scale of release as US blockbusters, the criticism made by French commentators in the mid-1990s that multiplexes are 'les porte-avions du cinéma américain' (aircraft carriers for American films) may seem partly debatable."
"Length of Release
In recent years the theatrical life expectancy of a film has been considerably reduced as distributors tend to consider the opening weekend as a key indicators of success or failure, with the effect of subsequently determining a film's future run. This climate has tended to favour mainstream Hollywood releases aimed at 15-to-24-years-olds, who represent the major share of the audience in Europe's national markets. This trend can be particularly damaging for European films which rely on word of mouth and good critical reviews to help build admissions.
[..] 'European films in circulation usually take longer than American films to reach their full potential throughout the European market.' [..]
In the past, over a period of a few months or even years, these films managed to filter down into the marketplace. During the 1980s and early 90s, Alain Resnais, Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer, the most elitist masters of the old French New Wave, along with Peter Greenaway and other European auteurs, had little difficulty inexporting their artistically oriented films. [..] However, despite a number of retrospectives in several large European cities, it is now on television rather than the big screen where auteur films are more likely to be seen as the demise of the art circuit has greatly affected their visibility in cinemas.
[..] When word-of-mouth fails to develop rapidly, films get pulled from cinemas before they realise their full potential. This would suggest that lack of visibility is a major problem facing new directors in Europe."
Research in the UK has shown that, in the late 1990s, between a 1/2 and 2/3 of British films did not have a theatrical release within a year of production. As many as 43.1% of films produced in 1997 remained unreleased and, 2 years later, there remained no plans to show them. Only 15.5% of UK films managed to have a wide release in 1997 compared to 50% in 1984. In Germany and Italy, the situation is slightly better, yet a third of German and Italian feature films go straight to television or video. France, where only films that have a statutory theatrical release can qualify for cinema funding, should provide a brighter picture. However, in 1999, French producer Alain Terzian quoted figures according to which, of the 147 French- or majority-French-produced films announced for 1998, between 30 and 40 films still did not have a distributor the following year, and of the rest, 1/3 had a minimal release."
"Continuing investments in multiplex development across Europe indicates that operators believe that theatrical exhibition will survive competition from home entertainment. [..] Admissions may have increased, but in most cases, this does not appear to have resulted in a greater choice of films in the multiplexes. In many cases, it has almost had the reverse effect: exhibitors are fighting battles with an ever-larger number of prints for fewer films in order to attract audience attention, creating a situation in which it is increasingly difficult for the vast majority of films to exist.
Domination of cinema ownership by companies combining exhibition with distribution interests has left smaller exhibitors struggling for survival and access to films. At the EUROPA CINEMAS annual gathering of exhibitors in December 2000, a number of delegates expressed the hope that, with the Internet, they would be able to access films directly from producers. the more pessimistic thought there was little chance of this happening while the power of the larger players continues to increase as a result of concentration and integration trends in the industry.
Strategies such as networking arrangements among domestic exhibitors, and European support to exhibitors (e.g. EUROPA CINEMAS), have provided opportunities for smaller operators. In several territories where multiplex development has almost reached saturation point, some exhibitors have started to show a greater variety of films on their increasing number of screens. This situation, along with the development of artplexes, could help the exhibition of European films, even though it will be of little comfort to the small exhibitors who [ have little hope retaining their independance or their theatre. Moreover, at a time when profits, if any, are more likely to come from television, video rental, video sell-through and DVD, the question needs to be raised whether recent efforts to help the theatrical distribution and exhibition of European films may be misguided.
With the industry excitedly entertaining the prospects for digital distribution, whereby films will be delivered to cinemas electronically, cinemas may be set for another heavy injection of capital. A key hurdle to such a development is the conflict between distributors and exhibitors over who should meet the cost of installing the necessary hardware. Only those who stand to benefit are likely to make the investment. If Europe's exhibition sector does see a large-scale move towards digital distribution in the future, it can be anticipated that this change will serve only to strengthen the position of the existing large US and European chains, as they will be the only operators in a position to raise the levels of capital required for the transition."
Source: European Film Industries (Anne Jäckel; BFI; 2003)
In Europe, producers, filmmakers, distributors, exhibitors, audiences, academics, critics care and worry about the comparative health of the art-house sector, they study it, analyse it, follow it, support it, fix problems little by little, call for the attention of media and public opinion, to regulate the market, to reassign governmental funds...
In the USA, where the situation is incomparably worse, they've passed the stage of caring... it's like nothing happened, they turn a blind eye and move along, on they go religiously following the worship of Hollywood and its endless award shows...