It’s been a long two-plus years since the exhibition executives of Europe were able to meet at CineEurope, last held in person in June 2019 in Barcelona, Spain. The Film Expo Group hosted a digital version of the event in 2020, but as this year’s UNIC Achievement Award winner Ivar Halstvedt will tell you, there’s nothing like meeting in person.
The current director of cinema at Kulturmeglerne Ltd. and former country manager for Norway at Nordic Cinema Group (later Odeon Cinemas Group), Halstvedt may be a year late in picking up his award—he was initially slated to receive it at 2020’s CineEurope—but it is no less a reflection of an incredible life of service to the Scandinavian cinema industry. “We are absolutely delighted to honor Ivar at CineEurope 2021,” says Phil Clapp, president of UNIC. “The award recognizes his distinguished career and leadership in the European exhibition sector, his continued passion and commitment to the highest standards of theatrical presentation, and his key role in developing both the Norwegian and European cinemagoing experience. I know that it will be warmly welcomed by colleagues from across the industry.”
A devotee of cinemagoing since his boyhood in Norway, Halstvedt evolved into a key figure in the Scandinavian exhibition scene. As the then-Nordic Cinema Group’s country manager for Norway, as well as head of its Technical Council, he played a key role in Norway’s conversion to digital cinema. Later, Halstvedt was instrumental in the series of mergers and acquisitions that led to the Nordic Cinema Group—now merged into the Odeon Cinemas Group—becoming a part of AMC Theatres. Halstvedt is a long-time board member of Film & Kino, Norway’s cinema trade group, and remains an active cinema developer.
What was your first job in the exhibition industry, and at what point did you know you wanted to make a career out of it?
I started working in the exhibition industry, part-time, during my studies in cultural management in the mid-1980s, but already as a kid I had my mind set on working in exhibition. My first real, full-time job was as a cinema manager at Heggelia Cinema in 1989. It’s situated in the north of Norway, where the sun never rises in the winter and never sets in the summer.
In 2010, when Norwegian cinemas were in the process of digitizing, you wrote the guide, “How to build a modern cinema multiplex.” What does the phrase “modern cinema multiplex” mean to you today?
In 2010 the Norwegian cinema industry started the first national conversion to digital cinema in the world. That of course created a lot of focus, since nobody had done it before us.
At that time, I knew that many other things would also deserve more professional attention: improvement of cinema design, how to increase profitability, improvement of terms in lease contracts, and how to improve requirement specifications to ensure the quality of the cinema towards contractors, to name a few.
Today, I would focus more on how to achieve a total curated cinema experience for our audiences and how to get maximum bang for the buck from the right things. These would include attentive service from the personnel, personal presentations of the screenings, unique design of interiors, innovative PLF screens and special concepts, and extended new F&B offerings.
What professional lessons have you taken from the Covid-19 pandemic?
To always be prepared for the unexpected and to drill action plans for damage control when a crisis might hit. I must say I am very proud of the way our industry has handled the pandemic, keeping our chin up through it all and struggling to stay open as much as possible while making our patrons feel safe when they decide to return to the cinema.
Who are the companies or industry figures working in exhibition today who most inspire you?
Except the companies I have worked in myself, I must say that the concept and results from Everyman Cinemas [in the U.K.] seem to impress and inspire many in our industry today.
What achievements are you most proud of from your time in the exhibition industry?
If I may mention two: The first would be successfully establishing Europe’s first new-build cinema with all-digital picture and digital sound transmission, Ringen Kino, in Oslo in 2008.
The second would be the opening of the Odeon Oslo in 2018, Norway’s largest multiplex ever, with 14 screens, including a wonderful Imax screen. This cinema also achieved the highest admissions in the country.
How do you see Covid affecting the evolution of the cinema industry—in terms of adopting new technology and premium experiences—as more global markets emerge from the pandemic?
I believe the pandemic has made us focus on what’s important in life. What we have witnessed upon the return to cinemas in all reopened markets, from the surveys being conducted, assures us that the cinema experience has been deeply missed and is much-loved. How out-of-home entertainment will develop post-Covid, I guess everyone has an opinion, but what we have seen in the last years is that both modern and well-run multiplexes and successful boutique cinemas are doing very well, catering to different needs from the same audiences. I think improved design, personal service, and new offerings will continue to evolve in the years to come, making our profits grow and bringing about much-needed reinvestments on a broad scale for many cinemas.
Can you tell us something about the cinema projects you’re currently involved in?
I can’t be very specific, but I am involved in several exciting new-build projects and also in several renovation projects involving older, pre-war cinemas. Both are very close to my heart.
Do you remember the first movie you saw in a theater? What was the cinema you went to most as a child?
It was Disney`s Dumbo at our local cinema, Selbak Kino, located at the dodgy end of the portside town of Fredrikstad. I became a regular there from a very young age. The cinema reminds me of Cinema Paradiso, both in design and the type of audience.
Who have been your mentors in the exhibition community?
I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to work with many leading professionals in our industry. These include Mr. Stein Sandvik, the great entrepreneur of Norwegian cinema, who gave me the responsibility of building Norway’s first cinema chain; Mr. Peter Fornstam, the great Swedish cinema showman, who taught me how to run a profitable cinema chain within a lean organization structure; Mr. Mats Kullander, the highly regarded cinema builder of SF Bio, who taught me the importance of bringing atmosphere into cinema design; Mr. Ari Saarinen, the great cinema technology innovator, who taught me how to think outside the box on technical solutions; and our great and inspirational leader through many years, Mr. Jan Bernhardsson, who taught me very much about large-scale business and how to improve it constantly.
I am also very inspired by having witnessed the work performed by the very kind and highly skilled Mr. Duncan Reynolds and Mr. Stephen Lavelle of Odeon Cinemas Group.
What does it mean to you to be able to attend CineEurope after the horrible year and a half the exhibition community has had—especially since you were supposed to receive this award in 2020?
I believe attending CineEurope this October will be a very important part of our industry’s [journey] to recovery. We will continue from where we left off, with certain adjustments. Like most others, I can’t wait to see everyone again. Even if we have been able to meet digitally for the last 18 months, there is now a huge, accumulated need to meet and do business in person again.