The movie theater industry is a global one, with theater operators able to gain insight and inspiration from the stories of their international brethren. To that end, Boxoffice Prois proud to feature profiles of this year’s ICTA EMEA Award winners, granted every year by the International Cinema Technology Association’s European branch to cinema operators displaying innovation and leadership in their approach to technology. Excellence in design, too, is evident, with this year’s trio of winners, who display a range of styles from old-school glamour to sleek modernity.
2020’s honorees fall into three categories: Classic Cinema, New Build Cinema, and Cinema Refurbishment, all in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) region. In a joint statement, the ICTA’s international directors Till Cussmann, Oliver Pasch, and Jan Runge said that this year’s three cinemas “in different ways illustrate how innovation and continued diversification of the big screen experience help attract audiences and continue to set the cinema experience apart from home entertainment.” They added that, given the challenging situation theaters worldwide find themselves in, “we hope that the awards in a small and symbolic way support our operator partners’ efforts to reengage with audiences. Huge congratulations to the outstanding teams of Pathé Netherlands, Muvi Cinemas, and Cineplexx Group.”
Classic Cinema of the Year
Founded by Abraham Tuschinski as a site for people at all levels of Amsterdam society to experience the luxury of moviegoing, the Pathé Tuschinski celebrates its 100th anniversary next year. Due to Covid-19, the exact nature of the celebratory events are TBD—but regardless, the Pathé Tuschinski will be going into its 100th year with a makeover.
The main challenge in renovating a century-old cinema, says Pathé Netherlands spokeswoman Imke van Schaaijk, is balancing the old and the new, providing “contemporary technology and convenience” to the modern customer while adhering to local government regulations that bar the modification of “anything that is part of the building as designed and built 100 years ago.”
The Pathé Tuschinski’s aesthetic—a mix of Art Deco, Jugendstil, and Amsterdamse school styles, designed by Hijman Louis de Jong—has been restored in the second of its six auditoriums. Originally a cabaret hall, it was burned down in World War II; now, new wall paintings echo its earlier design. Screen One—De Grote Zaal, or the Grand Auditorium—still has its original Art Deco and Jugendstil design. Additional renovations include new seating in five auditoriums, as well as new screens. The theater’s common area now boasts the brand-new Bar Abraham, serving cocktails based on classic films.
Says van Schaaijk, “We aim to make the grandeur and heritage of this theater accessible to all Dutch movie lovers by screening a mix of today’s blockbusters, the best Dutch movies, the most beautiful art house movies,” and special-event screenings, like performances of the Metropolitan Opera. Since being allowed to reopen at limited capacity on June 1, the theater has mixed older titles (like the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy), new Hollywood and European releases (Tenet, the French-Belgian drama Été 85, and an Italian Pinocchio adaptation have done very well at the theater, says van Schaaijk), popular TV finales, concert films, and—for the first time—titles from Netflix and Apple TV+.
New Build Cinema of the Year
Muvi Cinemas, U-Walk
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Muvi Cinemas was one of the first chains to enter Saudi Arabia following that country’s lifting of a decades-long restriction on public theaters. Since opening its first location in August 2019, the chain has expanded its reach to include a grand total of 10 cinemas in the country—including 2020’s New Build Cinema of the Year honoree, the U-Walk.
Located in Riyadh, the U-Walk opened on March 4, just over a week before cinemas in the country were ordered to shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Visitors were able to enjoy Saudi Arabia’s first Dolby Cinema as well as the first Samsung Onyx LED screen in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. All other screens are powered by Barco laser projectors.
“Luxury” is the watchword at U-Walk, with visitors able to avail themselves of four Muvi Suites, a VIP experience offering fully reclining seats, dedicated butler service, and a full food menu. Muvi Suites guests also have their own dedicated lounge and a private entrance with valet parking. Those who want something a little beyond the traditional screening experience can also choose to see a movie in U-Walk’s ScreenX auditorium.
The design of the theater, writes Muvi COO Adon Quinn, “is based on a theme of urban downtown, with an aim to create a dynamic, modern, and innovative experience. The internal spaces have been characterized by an industrial material palette, which includes timber, exposed steelwork, brickwork, graffiti artwork, and concrete flooring.” The Muvi Suites area boasts marble floors, wool carpets, timber paneling, and custom art.
The U-Walk welcomed audiences back once again starting June 21. Post-shutdown programming included Saudi Pro League soccer games (with select games selling out seven of the theater’s 13 screens, at 50% capacity), local language content, Hollywood blockbusters, and even pre-screening karaoke. Cinemas in Saudi Arabia have time for a lot of movies, notes Quinn, with some screenings beginning as late as 3:00 a.m., even on weekdays.
Best Cinema Refurbishment
Cineplexx, Millennium City
Originally opened in 2001 as part of UCI Cinemas, Vienna’s Millennium City has for nearly 20 years been a gem in the Austrian movie scene, selling more than 1 million tickets a year to its 21 auditoriums. Acquired by Cineplexx in 2019, the cinema underwent a major makeover, decreasing the number of screens to 13 in favor of a more technologically advanced cinema experience.
That experience begins in the lobby, where a wave-shaped LED screen adorns the ceiling, decorating the theater with a steady flow of popcorn. (Or, season permitting, snowflakes and Christmas trees.) In the theaters themselves, moviegoers have a range of advanced technology at their disposal, including Dolby Cinema and Dolby Atmos sound, Barco’s Flagship Laser projection, RealD’s Ultimate Screen, and MX4D motion seating. In terms of design, Millennium City was built to be open and welcoming, says co-owner Christof Papousek. “It must be a light and safe place for all people, no matter where they come from.”
The majority of the renovation to Cineplexx Millennium City was completed before March 14, when Cineplexx suspended operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The rest was completed during closure, preparing Cineplexx Millennium City for a grand return on August 4. The total investment, says Papousek, exceeded 10 million euros total, a share of it contributed by the real estate owners, whose invaluable partnership during the renovation process made the whole project possible.
“It was a huge effort to maintain the operation,” says Papousek, but it was “important in order to keep the cinema in the guests’ minds.” Since reopening, the cinema has mixed Hollywood titles with local and German films, European indies, and titles from eastern European countries. With theaters in some markets across Europe undergoing a second shutdown, Papousek argues that now is the time to celebrate theatrical beacons of hope like Millennium City. “They will be the stars for our lives once public life comes slightly back to normal.”