Audience Development & Innovation Lab. The Cinema Experience In The Age Of Digital Distractions
Directed by Madeleine Probst (Vice-President of Europa Cinemas & Watershed Cinema Programme Producer) together with Mathias Holtz (Programming Manager, Folkets Hus och Parker, Sweden) and Daniel Sibbers (Director of Marketing, Yorck Kinogruppe, Germany)
Il Cinema Ritrovato turns thirty this year, living and breathing proof that our rich cinema heritage is very much alive; as is the collective ritual of watching great films together, most spectacularly al fresco on the magnificent Piazza Maggiore. With a rich and textured programme that promises everything from dazzling Technicolor and breathtaking musical scores to time travel back to the Lumière brothers first touring programme, we would be hard pressed to imagine a better place for cinema practitioners from across Europe to come together to reflect on the past, present and future of cinema.
We take inspiration from early innovators the Lumière brothers who effectively gave birth to the thing we call ‘cinema’ some 120 years ago. Members of the public paid one franc to watch a programme of ten short silent films projected onto a screen in a Paris hotel. Even then, the brothers understood that all important relationship with audiences, presenting stories that people could engage with.
Fast forward to 2016, our lab’s focus this year, within a festival devoted to ‘rediscovering’ and breathing life back into lost or forgotten films, is on cinemas, the physical spaces that show films and on the roles that cinema practitioners can play in engaging their local communities in the rich and growing diversity of films.
In an era of increasing digital distractions and unprecedented availability of films, old and new, both legally and illegally on multiple platforms, where does the cinema sit with audiences’ expectations and viewing habits particularly the new generations of digital natives? And to what extent might the cinema experience be enhanced or diminished by the emergence of new film experiences; whether that’s through Screening Room, the latest endeavor by Napster’s Sean Parker, curated platforms such as MUBI, DIY YouTube channels or a brand new headset-delivered virtual reality film experience?
We ask, how is this new world order likely to impact on the art of programming films in a collective setting? Are our existing spaces, business models and audience development strategies fit for purpose in today’s multi-platform environment? How might we think creatively and playfully about co-designing spaces and film experiences that are in tune with the next wave of film-goers and film-makers?
The lab provides a much needed research and development space for practitioners from cinemas of all shapes and sizes to step out of the day-to-day to reflect on some of these questions, share approaches – successes and failures – and collectively evolve responsive and practical strategies for dealing with an increasingly dynamic environment. For example, one of the challenges for this year’s lab participants will be to dream and scheme new cinema spaces with a little inspiration from architect Jean-Marc Lalo (Atelier Architecture Lalo, France) who has been building new inspiring cinemas across the globe and a trip down to Cinema Modernissimo, a real-life underground heritage cinema project at the heart of Bologna.
Creating the demand for diverse films is a growing challenge in an increasingly homogenised and digitally connected market increasingly dominated by large marketing budgets and global brands. Yet it’s worth noting that 2015 was a strong year for Europa Cinemas network members with the highest admissions for European films in the network for its 25 year history. This is partly as a result of the network’s expansion – now spanning 2,320 screens in 30 countries. It’s also testimony to the commitment of Europa Cinemas network members that 6 out of 10 films presented on their screens were devoted to European productions, generating some 38 million admissions for European films in 2015.
In the ever evolving digital landscape and with the emergence of new platforms for film consumption, what we can still learn 120 years after the Lumière brothers’early projection experiments is the importance of audiences coming together to share stories combined with innovative curation and programming of the cinematic experience.