Neighbourhood Cinemas and Alternative Film Projects The Local View
The transition into the digital age has presented the operators of non-mainstream cinemas with quite a few challenges. Whereas many small, neighbourhood cinemas have invested in the future, the digital options for showing films are opening up new vistas for alternative projects. Not all of them are legal.
“Cinema brings the global sphere into the local sphere,” that is how Felix Bruder, managing director at the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Kino (German Art House Cinema Guild) sees the situation. “Even in the age of the Internet the cinema is still the place where people get together to watch a film and then exchange their ideas on it.“ These days it is above all the non-mainstream cinemas of the big cities that provide this opportunity. Those art house cinemas that can look back over a long tradition and pride themselves in having a personal reputation – the reputation of being the “cinema round the corner” with its very own catchment area and regular audience.
In the not too distant past people repeatedly claimed that these non-mainstream cinemas would soon die a death. The reason being that competition from multiplexes and online products was too strong. “No way, however, can we speak of these cinemas dying out,” assures Bruder. In 2012 783 of the 4617 cinemas in Germany were classified by their operators as studio, non-mainstream or art house cinemas – a mere four less than the year before.
A digital future is expensive“The future of many of these cinemas will depend on whether they are in a position to invest in digital technology,” says Bruder. Most films these days are not available in 35mm copy format. It is the small-time distributors in particular who are afraid of the high copying costs and so they have changed to Blue-Ray disc. Bruder went on to explain that the term digitalisation does not mean that the cinemas all now use a data projector to show their films. The main issue here is in fact the DCI-Standard (Digital Cinema Initiatives) that is predetermined by the American studios. The standard requires certain coding techniques to be used – and it is expensive.
Re-equipping a cinema to show films in 2-D costs around 70,000 euros, 3-D technology is even more expensive at 100,000 euros. Nevertheless the majority of German non-mainstream cinemas have taken this leap into the digital age with great ease – thanks to a digitalisation promotion scheme by the FFA (German Federal Film Board) and also with help at both federal and regional levels. “And for those people who want to release a non-Hollywood film nationwide, they can even do it without having to conform to the DCI standard,” says Bruder. “Some cinemas are focusing their program more and more on German and European films that come from small-time distributors.”
The neighbourhood cinema is alive and kicking“A good non-mainstream cinema is also a neighbourhood cinema,” claims Matthias Elwardt, the operator of the Abaton Cinema in Hamburg. “Because it feels committed to the area in which it is located and is integrated in the cultural life of that area.” An example of this is the fact that the Abaton Cinema cooperates with the local Jewish community, kindergartens, schools, museums and theatres. “The films the people of the area want to see also change,” says Elwardt. “You have to get used to this, if you want to keep your cinema alive.” As they are so flexible, neighbourhood cinemas have a major advantage over the multiplexes. “One reason in particular being that they are not located in expensive areas of town, where so many of the big picture palaces are to be found.”
For over five years now Elwardt has been in charge of the “Berlinale goes Kiez”, a series run under the auspices of the Berlinale – the International Film Festival in Berlin. Certain, selected festival entries from the official program are shown in seven art house cinemas in different areas of the city. “The idea originally came about on the occasion of the festival’s 60th anniversary – the idea was to thank those cinemas which show films from the Berlinale program all year round,” says Elwardt. The way it was received by audiences, the press and filmmakers was so enormous that “Berlinale goes Kiez” became an institution in itself.