Of the ten countries that joined the EU in May
2004, Poland has the biggest population: it counts around 38 million
inhabitants. From the perspective of cinema-going, too, it is the
most important market, in view of the fact that in 2004 – an
exceptionally good year – it sold 33 million tickets and in
the last decade audiences have almost doubled.
Yet, if we consider that Spain, with only a slightly higher population,
can count on at least four times the number of spectators, it becomes
clear just how much potential there is for growth on this market.
This is clearly the reasoning followed by the companies that have
invested in the opening of new cinemas over the past few years, and
which seem to have the intention of continuing.
Of the just under 900 screens operating in Poland – the largest
total number of cinemas of the ten new members of the Union –
around one third is located in complexes with at least 8 screens and
has managed to attract almost two thirds of the Country’s box-office.
This transformation in the offer of screens – which has resulted
in two opposite types, i.e. 60% single-screen cinemas and 30% multiplexes
– has been launched mainly by foreign investors, either alone
or in joint ventures with Polish companies.
It was the alliance between the Polish group ITI and the American
UCI that launched the first multiplex in Poznan in 1998, under the
The Polish scenario then saw the arrival of the Belgian Kinepolis,
the South African Ster Century and Silver Screen, another US/Polish
alliance. At present the lion’s share is held by Multikino and
the Israeli IT, operating under the Cinema City brand, which have
also shared out the complexes opened by Ster who, after rapid expansion
in Europe, mainly on the emerging markets, have left the Continent.
It is, in fact, Multikino and Cinema City that are placing their odds
on the development of the Polish market, judging from the range of
These are projects that do not regard the Capital only. Unlike other
Central-Eastern European countries, Poland can count on a fairly high
number of densely populated cities: at the end of 2004 the twenty-seven
new-generation complexes was present in Warsaw (8 multiplexes) and
in another twelve locations, including Krakow, Danzig, Stetin and
Poznan. It was the latter city – an industrial and university
town a few dozen kilometres from the border with Germany – that
witnessed the opening of a third multiplex in 2005, under the banner
of Cinema City, which thus becomes a competitor of Multikino and Kinepolis.
In the second half of 2006 the new Multikino multiplex should be opening
in Warsaw. Unlike the other complexes, situated mostly in the residential
suburbs, it will be located in the heart of the City, a few steps
away from the Central Station, where today there is forest of cranes
but which is destined to become the “Golden Terraces”
shopping and office centre. It will be only a short distance from
the Palace of Culture and Science, which also houses a cinema, and
not far from theatres such as the Muranow, the Femina and the Kultura,
which offer a more varied and art-house programme.
The next phase in the strategy of the large groups will be to bring
the new generation of complexes to “second level” towns,
too, i.e. those with populations of around 100,000 inhabitants. “These
will be smaller structures than those opened in the big cities –
says Pawel Wachnik, Managing Director of Multikino – but characterised
by the same comfort and technological quality”.
The objective is to increase the Country’s cinema-going, endeavouring
to bring pro-capita frequency, which has remained at 0.7 even in a
good year such as 2004, closer to Western European levels. In order
to do this, the modernisation and extension of existing cinemas is
an essential condition but not sufficient. In fact Polish audiences
have the pronounced tendency to be extremely sensitive to widely popular
domestic films. Films “made in Poland”, generally taken
from literary works that form part of the Country’s culture
and school syllabus (for example “Quo Vadis?” and “Pan
Tadeusz”), have proved capable of drawing millions of spectators
into cinemas, in even greater numbers than worldwide blockbusters,
like Star Wars or Titanic. Seen in this light Multikino
does not seem to have made such a surprising move in deciding to launch
the direct distribution of films, concentrating on a title of a purely
Polish nature, even though originally conceived outside Poland and
for television, such as Karol. The intention is to save the
destiny of a difficult year like 2005, which is experiencing a drop
in audiences almost everywhere.
The crucial role of domestic productions as the engine of cinema-going
has not escaped the attention of public institutions, either. In recent
months a bill has been conceived which aims to tax box-office, the
hire and sale of videos and dvds, advertising on private televisions,
advertising and licences for public television and income from cable
tv. The objective is to set up a fund on behalf of Polish film-making.
And if the operators in the sector do not all view this measure favourably,
the progress of the law is now fairly advanced and the new fund should
come into operation at the beginning of 2006.
Great domestic hits in Poland
||Year of release
|With Fire and Sword
|Pan Tadeusz: The last Foray in Lithuania
|| Jerzy Kawalerowicz
|In Desert and Wilderness
|The Spring to Come
Screens and admissions in Poland in 1994,
2003 and 2004
|| Admissions (x 1,000)
Friday 17 June: a date that did not go unobserved even
by the least superstitious of Italians, but in which Polish exhibitors
placed a good deal of hope. Cinemas throughout the Country saw, in
fact, the release of Karol, the Italian production dedicated
to the youth of John Paul II up until his election as Pope.
The Polish initiative is unique: in other countries Karol
will be offered to audiences as a television series. In the country
of the Pope’s birth, its theatrical release anticipates by four
months its release on the small screen, foreseen for 16 October –
the same date as Karol Wojtyla’s appointment to the Papal See.
The film will be distributed to cinemas by Multikino, a company that
has operated exclusively in the field of exhibition up to the present.
It does, in fact, own 7 multiplexes, for a total of 74 screens (around
8.5% of all Polish cinemas), situated in the Country’s biggest
Pawel Wachnik, Managing Director of Multikino, is the person who has
insisted most on bringing Karol into the cinemas. Behind
this initiative, “there are – says Wachnik – two
main interests. From a business point of view, I hope that Karol
will attract the same type of audience that crowded cinemas in 2004
to see The Passion of The Christ. But I also believe that
– for the content and the message of the work to achieve its
full potential – the cinema is the ideal place. Here it is possible
to watch the whole film without the inevitable “distractions”
of the home environment: the telephone ringing, the children crying,
the commercial breaks”.
In line with this, Multikino has made the radical choice of showing
the film, lasting 2 hours and 45 minutes, without intervals and without
advertising or trailers before the screening. “A way of encouraging
the attitude of respect and attention with which audiences approach
this film,” continues Wachnik.
This, too, comes from the experience gained with Mel Gibson’s
film, which in Poland – a country of 38 million inhabitants
– had an audience of over 3 and a half million. Many spectators
had not been to a cinema for years, being unused to the “new
rituals” associated with cinema-going in the theatres of the
“With the The Passion of The Christ we sold a great
deal more tickets than for other films, but also less drinks and popcorn.
The spectators were drawn to the cinema almost exclusively by the
content of the film, not so much with a view to having an evening
The Polish Catholic Church, which encourages people to see Karol,
is of the same opinion as Wachnik. Not by chance cardinal Mocharski
took part in the press conference in Warsaw. And at the grandiose
première, by invitation only, held on 16 June in Krakow, the
city of which Wojtyla was archbishop, the host was Stanislaw Dziwisz,
secretary and above all friend of John Paul II, now his successor
as archbishop of the most beautiful of Polish cities.
Added to the distribution strategy adopted by Multikino, based on
the exceptional number of prints (150 for around 870 screens) and
on a massive advertising campaign, comes the “word-of-mouth”
recommendation by ecclesiastical circles. And, as an adroit marketing
man, Wachnik offers price reductions in his cinemas for parish groups
and youth associations.
The results seem to be proving him right: after a most satisfying
opening week-end, when it was seen by 200,000 spectators, Karol
has drawn up to 21 August one million, 700 thousand spectators. And
it is also the only film to have sold over one million tickets in