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“I fear that the smaller theatres will not make it”

Interview with Mr. Detlef Rossmann, the President of the CICAE, Cahier des exploitants (29th February 2012).

Ecran Total: You have been president of the International Confederation of Art Cinemas (CICAE) since 2007; where is your movie theatre located?

Detlef Rossmann: I work as an exhibitor in a medium-sized town in Germany, Oldenburg, which has a population of 160,000. My theatre, the Casablanca, has three screens and runs art house films. I am also vice-chairman of the German association of arthouse theatres.

E.T.: What is CICAE’s mission?

D.R.: CICAE was founded in 1956 by the German, French, Italian, Swiss and Dutch art cinema associations, and brings together the European federations of arthouse cinemas. It now represents 3,000 screens in France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Switzerland and Venezuela, via their national organizations, as well as a few dozen individual theatres in about twenty countries, plus roughly twenty festivals. Its mission is to work with cinemas and audiences to foster the recognition of and appreciation for art films, to seek the support of national and European political institutions (notably the European union’s MEDIA programme) and to contribute to cultural diversity. Our general delegate, Markéta Hodouskova, works from our headquarter in Paris; being based there provides us with greater visibility.

E.T.: Does “arthouse cinema” mean the same thing everywhere around the world ?

D.R.: The term entails very different things in different countries! In France and Italy, there is a legal definition, based on the percentage of arthouse films that a cinema programmes, on a theatre’s catchment area, etc. Things are well-regulated and supervised. In Germany, as in many other countries, “arthouse” is not a category that is defined by a government regulation. Small arthouse cinemas choose to programme films for their artistic value, and not solely for their commercial potential.

E.T.: What sort of major issues does CICAE’s work focus on?

D.R.: We untracked lobbying activities, notably by taking our issues to the European Parliament Committee on Culture and the Commission’s Directorate General for Education and Culture.

One of our most important initiatives is a training programme for cinema managers, which is held yearly in conjunction with the Venice film festival in early September. We are presently working on several fronts at a time: relations between television networks and the cinema industry, festivals, distributors and exhibitors, the digital transition, attracting young audiences, discovering new talents, improving the distribution of national movies in arthouse theatres… but the most complex right now is definitely the shift to digital equipment in projection booths.

E.T.: Have you switched to digital technology?

D.R.: not yet. France is the only to have enacted a law which obliges distributors to contribute to the digital switchover, which is not the case in Germany nor in many other countries. For the moment, in Europe, it is mostly the large chains and multiplexes that have gone digital. In addition, 90% of the movies screened in these digitally-equipped theatres are US blockbusters, which contributes to increasing the share of American movies even further.

E.T.: What do you think this shift will mean for CICAE’s member cinema?

D.R.: French theatres should complete the shift by late 2013/2014, and the Swiss government has announced it will support cinemas. Negotiations are continuing in Italy, and in Germany as well.

The European Union approved a €2M package last year, but requests for support significantly exceed that amount. It is going to be very difficult to keep Europe’s 30,000 cinemas open, and I fear that the smaller theatres will not make it. I cannot understand how the EU adopted the DCI standard, which is extremely costly.

E.T.: What do you mean?

D.R.: Well, why hasn’t a lighter version of DCI been developed for smaller cinemas ?

There are other, much less costly, professional systems, which range from €30,000 to 40,000, and offer a 1.9K definition instead of 2K. This sort of equipment may be enough for small-scale theatres… The USA were smart to first negotiate with France, as the EU followed in its footsteps. I think that European institutions should allow a special provision for small theatres, as they cannot expect to be able to invest €70,000 when their revenues hardly rise above €50,000…

The Hollywood studios want to expand their market shares, and have no need for small theatres that screen European films; they prefer to sell DVDs in countries which have looser media release windows than France. To make matter worse, public support in favour of the film industry is heavily skewed in Europe in favour of production, rather than the marketing and exhibition of European films, which are vital to a healthy and vibrant European cinema industry.

E.T.: What situation do your Eastern European members find themselves in?

D.R.: Theirs is a very difficult situation. After the iron curtain came down, many cinemas suffered from neglect as they were not privatized right away: towns wanted to keep their local cinemas open, even when they did not have the resources to run them properly. At the same time, multiplexes came on the scene, thus consolidating US domination of the market. In addition, arthouse cinemas in these countries are usually single-screen theatres, like in Hungary, and therefore don’t have enough resources to invest in digital equipment. And since the big distributors really don’t have much of an interest in European films, art cinemas don’t really have access to them. Therefore many of them have become distributors themselves , as this is the only way for them to offer their audiences European films.

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