DigiTraining Plus: New Technologies for the European Cinemas of the Future. An account of the tenth edition
It was Poland's turn to host the tenth edition of DigiTraining Plus: New Technologies for the European Cinemas of the Future, the MEDIA Salles course addressing European cinema professionals who wish to keep up-to-date with the new technologies.
This year there were 28 participants from 12 different countries - from Bosnia Herzegovina to the UK, from Spain to Greece - taking a look at the present situation and future prospects for digitalization in Europe and listening to talks by internationally known consultants, such as Michael Karagosian, and experts who have contributed to the digitalization of large private circuits, such as Jan Petersen from Denmark, Technical Manager for Nordisk Film Biografer, or to the formation of purchasing groups for medium- or small businesses, such as Ron Sterk, Director of the Dutch initiative Cinema Digitaal.
Poland: a variety of economic models for digitalizing different types of cinemas
In the case of Poland, which by mid-2013 had digitalized 904 screens, or around three quarters of its screens, digitalization is based on a variety of economic models, according to the different types of cinemas.
On the one hand, the country's three leading exhibitors - Multikino, Helios and Cinema City - completed the process of digitalization some time ago - Multikino in 2011, Helios and Cinema City in the first half of 2012.
On the other hand, several public support schemes have been made available, both at a national and a local level, for smaller and commercially weaker cinemas.
During the course Renata Pawlowska-Pyra presented the support programme for digitalization set up in June 2011 by the Polish Film Institute, distinguished by being destined specifically for quality and arthouse cinemas, with the aim of creating venues with a cultural role which are also avant-garde in terms of projection technology.
Two years from its foundation, the scheme has guaranteed support for digitalizating more than 110 cinemas, with allocations amounting to a total of 15 million PLN (around 3.5 million euros).
At a regional level comes the "Małopolska Digital Cinemas Network" experience, set up in 2010 thanks to an initiative by the Fundacja Rozwoju Kina and financed by the European Regional Development Fund with the aim of enhancing tourism in the region by improving the offer of cinema-going. An overview of how this model works was given at DigiTraining Plus 2013 by Marta Materska-Samek, during one of the visits scheduled, devoted to a cinema belonging to the same Małopolska network, the cinema Centrum in the Cultural Centre of Wadowice.
The work of this cinema situated in Pope John Paul II's birthplace, was presented by the Manager, Piotr Wyrobiec, and is a good example of integration between the cinema and its surrounding territory, as well as the use of cinematographic offer in relation to tourism: the programming of the cinema Centrum does in fact include content linked to religious tourism centring on the figure of Pope Wojtyła.
The evolution of technology
Mike Vickers, Treasurer of MEDIA Salles, opened the tenth edition of the course by showing pictures of the newly revived Thurso cinema - the northernmost in the UK - which re-opened in 2012, placing all its bets on digital technology. He stressed the prime objective of the digital transition: to enhance the role of the cinema as a place of entertainment and cultural activity and to make sure that the big screen can be enjoyed by a growing number of spectators, taking cinema to places where it is lacking today.
The statistics elaborated by MEDIA Salles - presented by Elisabetta Brunella - nonetheless show that - if more than 27,000 screens, or almost three quarters of the European total, have opted for digital technology - it cannot be taken for granted that the remaining 25% will manage to transform to digital without difficulty. In some territories or in certain types of cinemas the percentage of digital projectors is well below average.
An overview of the situation worldwide was given by Michael Karagosian, who stated that there are now 36 markets on which traditional film has completely disappeared, whilst it is estimated that there will be an increase to 65 by mid-2014.
The installation of digital projectors, which proceeded at a rate of 30,000 units over the past three years, is now becoming less intense. The industry's interest is thus shifting to new products and to the application of digital technologies but - continued Karagosian, to reassure exhibitors who were worried about the possibility of digital technology rapidly becoming obsolete - experience has shown that digital projectors have a life expectancy that lasts well beyond the ten years initially estimated. A wide-ranging session led by Emidio Frattaroli, Director of the technical journal AV Magazine, was devoted to the new prospects for technology and encouraged a critical view of some issues crucial to the quality of digital projection, meeting with keen interest from the participants.
Careful programming and communication with the public
Petr Vitek, the genial co-founder of the Aero in Prague, a landmark for quality cinema, gave participants a series of examples of how to involve the public in promoting a cinema.
Agreements with art academies and design institutes have allowed Aero and its other "satellite" cinemas to take advantage of an original brand of image and graphics at a low cost. On the other hand, the creators of the festival posters or programmes of the various initiatives - students from these schools - gain experience of real-life commissions and have the opportunity of making their talent visible. But even the "average" spectator can play an active role, for example by decorating a balcony with the banners that Bio Oko gives its fans. In the digital age, by making intense and original use of the social media, Aero encourages its aficionados to talk about their favourite cinema and its programmes more or less every day, thus creating an ever-increasing community of supporters. At no cost or almost.
Programming at the Svetozor is equally creative, although the programme is fortnightly. Centring on the screening of one or two international premières - which, according to the day in question are offered at different time slots - it is complemented by productions of local interest, documentaries, advance screenings, children's films and alternative content (starting from opera by the New York Metropolitan), scheduled for the time slots most suited to the specific type of spectator.
The talk by Peter Bosma, an independent programmer and researcher, focused on the positioning of cinemas, based on a knowledge of their audiences, both traditional and prospective, and began by placing movie theatres in categories. From "old-time" cinemas to "luxury" theatres, Bosma identified six modes of programming, challenging the course participants to come up with a seventh category, based on digital technology.
The visits: digital technology at the service of the cinema and diverse audiences
One of the strong points of the DigiTraining Plus course are the visits to cinemas where digital technologies are used to offer the public diverse and innovative programming.
One example was the Cinema City Bonarka, a highly popular multiplex on the outskirts of Cracow. As well as traditional screenings, the Bonarka offers Cinema Park, an avant-garde initiative in the field of so-called "edutainment", in other words educational entertainment, mainly - but not necessarily - addressing children and schools, and which the course participants were able to witness live.
Again in Cracow, the Kijów cinema - which hosted the first evening of the course - was an example of a very different sort of cinema: a theatre which, with over 800 seats, is one of Poland's biggest and presents numerous cinema events, including, in the past three years, Eurocinema Expo, the convention at which digital technologies are presented to representatives of the Polish cinema industry.
Amongst the cinemas visited in Warsaw, the second course venue, Kinoteka is an arthouse cinema with 8 auditoriums and 2 foyers, situated in the grand Palace of Culture and Science, built in 1955. Programming at the Kinoteka - where course participants were able to watch "Warsaw 1935", a striking, animated short-film in 3D reconstructing how the city looked before the war - combines a series of blockbusters and independent films, accompanied by theme festivals and special events. Projection was digitalized in March this year.
The Multikino Złote Tarasy is completely different: a luxury, new-generation multiplex in a large mall, with a unique character that seems to have been created on purpose to amaze, starting with the VIP area and the Velvet Bar, where a buffet meal was served.
The avant-garde technology at the Złote Tarasy made it possible to screen a demonstration of High Frame Rates (48 photograms a second), made thanks to collaboration between Barco and Arri.
The last stage of our day in Warsaw marked by the theme of diversity, was the Iluzjon, a cinema with two screens offering programming based mainly on films from the National Cinémathèque archives. The Illuzjon is an attractive, single-floor building, surrounded by a small park, and was completely renovated in 2010.
What will tomorrow's cinemas be like?
A glance at the cinemas of the future came in the talk that concluded the course and was given by Ron Sterk, Director of the Dutch Exhibitors' Association (NVB) and Cinema Digitaal, the initiative that has allowed cinemas in the Netherlands to attain 100% digitalization. Sterk stressed the importance of starting to "think digital". Making a break with old models linked to traditional film and discovering new potential and innovative ways of working are much greater challenges - but also more exciting ones - than just changing your equipment. This, according to Sterk, is the new way of thinking that will make a theatre's lease of life longer. To those who believe that they do not have the necessary resources, Sterk pointed out a successful path experimented in the Netherlands: that of cooperation. It was by joining forces that the Dutch exhibitors - even those running the smallest theatres - managed to digitalize thanks to a collective VPF model, and again thanks to cooperation that "Cinéville" was created, a monthly subscription allowing free access to arthouse cinemas in Amsterdam and nine other towns. Thus independent cinemas, too, were able to equip themselves with a tool that in the past had been a prerogative of the leading European chains.
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|FOCUS ON ACCESSIBILITY
Amongst the most interesting challenges for the movie theatres of the future is undoubtedly increasing accessibility, in other words opening up the cinema-going experience to those with impaired sight or hearing.
In Europe this issue is beginning to arouse interest, partly because of the need to comply with EU policies, whilst in other parts of the world accessibility is already in place.
For further information on accessibility in cinemas, see Michael Karagosian's talk at the 2013 DigiTraining Plus course, available at the following link: http://www.mediasalles.it/training/training.htm
Argentina: a handbook published on accessibility in cinemas
Last August in Argentina, the Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales presented the publication "La accesibilidad a los medios audiovisuales: la narración en lengua de señas argentina y el subtitulado para personas sordas".
This handbook, which came out in response to the Ley de Servicios de Comunicación Audiovisual, guaranteeing that all types of spectators enjoy audiovisual content, opens by stating that in a world where new technologies ensure that the means for inclusion are possible, the right of those with impaired sight or hearing to take part in the cinema-going experience must be guaranteed.
The publication, authored by Claudia Gabriela D'Angelo and María Ignacia Massone, arises out of collaboration with the Argentinian Deaf and Dumb Association (CAS) and the National Institute against Discrimination, xenophobia and racism (INADI), as well as with the Federal Authorities on Audiovisual Communication Services (AFSCA) and the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research.
Thanks to the competence of its individual contributors, the publication is able to deal with the various technical aspects of accessibility - from subtitling to audio descriptions - with close attention to the practical side of it.
Extremely precise instructions are given, for instance, to cinemas that wish to create subtitles for a film or for other types of content (for example live events), or to include a window on the screen for an interpreter translating the content into Argentinian sign language. One particularly significant consideration emerging from the book is linked to domestic cinema. Argentina is a country in which foreign-language films - particularly those produced in the U.S. - are subtitled. Almost paradoxically, this makes American cinema and foreign productions accessible to those with impaired hearing, whilst the same is not true for domestic productions. The use of subtitles for those with hearing impediments can thus be considered a resource that will boost the domestic cinema market.
France and the UK: accessibility already in place
by Elisabetta Brunella
The Fontenelle may appear to be a small cinema site, just like many of the others that serve one of the numerous small towns scattered over the region of Paris. If Marly-le-Roi (population 16,000) is less famous than its neighbour Versailles, it is just as "proud of its royal origins", but at the same time "looks to the future".
This is what the municipal website has to say and the same philosophy seems to inspire the Fontenelle, a traditional art-house cinema yet recently equipped with two digital screens, which has always laid emphasis on quality programming.
But what makes the Fontenelle an avant-garde cinema is also its ability to address spectators with difficulties in seeing or hearing.
The cinema offers films with French subtitles for spectators with hearing impediments and - when a film has a channel available for audio description - titles suitable for the sight-impaired.
The situation at the Fontenelle thus already proves to be in line with European policy, which demands that cinemas take steps to provide a service for all types of spectators. This is the spirit of article 7 of the EU's AVMSD (Audiovisual Media Services Directive), which reads:
"Member States shall encourage media service providers under their jurisdiction to ensure that their services are gradually made accessible to people with a visual or hearing disability."
"Why on earth should the hearing-impaired not have the chance to be cinema lovers?" comments Pascal Humbert, manager of the Lido cinema in Castres, which has been offering versions suitable for the hearing-impaired since last June.
As a consequence, for some weeks, audiences in this small town in the region of Toulouse have been witnessing screenings with rather different subtitles from those generally provided for films in their original language.
To make them more useful to those who have a hearing impediment, for example, the words are colour-coded according to the character who speaks them. Capital letters are used if the actor is shouting and comments are provided to describe sounds. "The only disadvantage," continues Pascal Humbert, "is that there are still very few films available in this version."
On a larger scale, the experiences of the Fontenelle or the Lido are offered in France by a group that covers the whole country, Gaumont Pathé, whose cinemas provide films subtitled for the hearing-impaired on Thursdays and Saturdays.
It is not only France that is determined to move towards a goal which - as the European directive states - must progressively be adopted by exhibitors in Europe, but also Great Britain.
Here the big chains - Vue, Odeon and Cineworld - offer a range of services including audio descriptions and subtitles on individual devices, such as mini-screens or glasses, made available by the cinema to those who ask for them.
The transmitter/receiver on the glasses is also a support for the audio channel, with descriptions for the sight-impaired.
What makes these options feasible is without doubt digital technology.
With 35mm film, the channel for the hearing-impaired was created by the audio processor, whilst the narrative channel for the sight-impaired was only available on an "Accessibility Disc for Digital Theatre Systems".
Digital has improved this situation dramatically: channels for those with hearing or visual impediments are already available in the files the cinema receives together with the film and no particularly complex equipment is necessary for them to be used.
We often ask ourselves what tomorrow's cinema will be like. One of the keywords will certainly be accessibility, or the possibility of getting rid of physical or sensorial barriers, so that a growing number of people can enjoy the experience of cinema on the big screen.
The Italian version of this article was published in "Cinema & Video International" no. 10/11, October-November 2013.
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