CineEurope 2022 – UNIC Achievement Award: Géke Roelink, Filmhuis Den Haag

Receiving the UNIC Achievement Award at this year’s CineEurope is Géke Roelink, whose work as managing director of the Filmhuis Den Haag in The Hague, Netherlands, has helped keep the spirit of cinema alive in a country where the exhibition industry was—and remains—hard-hit by the pandemic, with four waves of lockdowns occurring between the onset of Covid and the beginning of 2022.

Boasting five screens, the Filmhuis Den Haag is more than just a theater: It’s a cultural meeting center, designed to spark conversation with a wide array of programming (screenings, classes, and more) geared toward different local communities as well as issues raised by The Hague’s International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court. It’s a fitting place of employment for self-described idealist Roelink, who joined the Filmhuis in 2011 after a decade-plus of working at other Dutch cultural institutions, including Amsterdam’s Eye Filmmuseum and the University of Amsterdam; she spent seven years as a board member of the Netherlands Union of Cinemas (NVBF) and currently serves as an advisor to the Netherlands Council of Culture and a supervisory board member of Netherlands’ Imagine Film Festival.

“We are absolutely delighted to honor Géke at CineEurope 2022,” says UNIC president Phil Clapp on Roelink’s receipt of the UNIC Achievement Award, given every year in recognition of service to the European cinema industry. “The award recognizes her incredible passion for the big screen, her outstanding career path, and her key role in developing both the Dutch and European cinemagoing experience. On behalf of the UNIC Board and colleagues from across the industry, I would like to congratulate Géke for this wonderful achievement.”

How did you first get involved with the Filmhuis Den Haag?

While working at the [Eye Filmmuseum] in Amsterdam, we collaborated multiple times with the Filmhuis Den Haag to organize retrospectives on, for example, the lovely actress Romy Schneider. When the opportunity arose, it was a great pleasure to become the director of the Filmhuis Den Haag, a beautiful movie theater right in the center of the international city of peace and justice. What more do you need?

The Filmhuis Den Haag has a wide variety of programming, both films and other events. When it comes to programming, how has the Filmhuis kept things fresh and responsive to the community’s needs as they have evolved over the decades?

The Hague houses over 50 nationalities. That gives us the chance to experiment with all kinds of film programs for a variety of communities. We have decided not only to recognize film as an art form or a form of entertainment, but also as a vehicle to help establish a more cohesive and harmonious society. That gave us, and still [gives us], a wide range of possibilities to put topics on the agenda that enhance mutual understanding. Film appears to be an effective antidote for polarization. Yes, I am definitely an idealist.

We continuously try to stay relevant in a fast-changing society. To help us structure our programming we have carved it into three clusters: Your World, Your Talent, and Your City. Varying from regular programming with premieres and classic movies to film education and talent development. And—last but not least—programs addressing topics that are important for a multicultural city that is the site of national government and in which we can also present topics relevant to specific communities.

Sometimes we literally hand over the key to a theater to a representative of a group with the request to develop a film program that is relevant to their peers. This involves close collaboration with many organizations, parties, and people. Lots of work, but also lots of fun and very satisfying.

Can you share a memory of the first movie (or an early, formative movie) that you saw in a cinema?

Disney’s 101 Dalmatians. After watching that movie, all I wanted was a Dalmatian puppy. Still trying to get one. Later, although I was still a little young, my older brothers took me to Jesus Christ Superstar. I immediately had a crush on Jesus, or at least the actor Ted Neely. Many movies later, cinema is still able to instantaneously alter my goals and emotions. After watching Wuthering Heights by Andrea Arnold, I immediately investigated how to move to North Yorkshire. Watched Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You? From then on, all delivery people could use my bathroom.

I’m not unique in responding to films this way. Every day I see people leaving the theaters in a different state of mind than they entered 90 minutes before. That is the magic of movies.

Yuval Noah Harari, author of Homo Sapiens and Homo Deus, only realized that he was homosexual after seeing the 1996 movie Lilies by John Greyson when he was 21 years old. In all his previous years, and despite his liberal upbringing, that thought had never crossed his mind.

How would you assess the Dutch exhibition industry’s recovery from the pandemic? How does it compare to nearby countries?

After a huge decline in 2020, the exhibition industry in the Netherlands has suffered even more in 2021. Cinemas and movie theaters were required to be closed even longer last year. In the 28 weeks in which the theaters were open, better results were achieved than in 2020, but compared to 2019 (a normal cinema year) there was still a 31 percent decline in visitors in those months. The successive and accumulated restrictions, such as the limitation in the number of visitors, only access with proof of vaccination and/or testing, the 1.5-meter distance rule, and restricted opening times, resulted in a one-sixth maximum occupancy capacity, and consequently the decrease in visitors was 73 percent. The restrictions in the Netherlands were the most severe of all of Europe.

This year so far, attendance rates in the Filmhuis have improved but are still less than 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels. People have to rediscover their way to the movie theaters, and that requires extra effort. I’m confident that we will get back to our previous numbers/visitors in time. Meanwhile, and as a sign of the times, we have developed remote options (i.e., in your own favorite chair) to enjoy films in our online Filmhuis and visit our exhibition “The Sound of Cinema.”

A big theme over the last few years has been local films stepping in and filling content gaps left by major Hollywood studios. Was this the case in the Netherlands? What local films did well?

In the Netherlands films are usually shown in their original language with subtitles. This means that films from all over the world and in any language can relatively easily find their way to a screen in a Dutch theater. Access to such a large source of movies provided us with sufficient new content during the pandemic.

In 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, the market share of Dutch film productions doubled. This was partially caused by the significant reduction of blockbuster movies from the U.S.The most successful Dutch films in 2020 and 2021 were Slag om de Schelde (The Forgotten Battle; we still make WWII movies here) and De Beentjes van Hildegard (The Little Legs of Hildegard). In fact, De Beentjes van Hildegard was in such a thick local dialect that it was subtitled to allow people in the next city to enjoy this movie. An added benefit of subtitling is that hearing-impaired people can always enjoy movies in the Netherlands!

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