Barcelona once again hosted the European exhibition community this summer for CineEurope 2018, the annual convention of the continent’s trade body, UNIC. Spirits were high after a largely positive 2017; although cinema admissions among EU member states decreased by 0.6 percent, UNIC member countries saw an annual increase of 2.5 percent, equivalent to 1.34 billion tickets sold. On a wider level, the EMEA region surpassed the $10 billion mark for the first time since 2014, a 4 percent bump from the previous year. Three of UNIC’s most important markets posted strong results in 2017: Russian box office revenue saw an uptick of 9.5 percent, France enjoyed its third-best performance of the past 50 years, and the United Kingdom saw an increase in both revenue (2.5 percent) and admissions (1.4 percent).
The level of success for any individual European territory usually depends on the strength of the local film industry to complement Hollywood’s offerings. Turkey emerged as a leader in that regard, where domestic films represented 56.8 percent of the annual market share. France was the only other territory where domestic cinema claimed over a third of the market share, taking 37.4 percent of the 2017 share. Collaboration across the markets when it comes to promoting European cinemas is also important; European films were responsible for 27.5 percent of the market share across the region in 2017.
The 2017 figures provide a stable foundation for European cinema to grow, even if political tensions in several countries might provide stumbling blocks. Brexit looms as the “elephant in the room” (or, in this case, continent), leading to questions as to how the production and distribution of European cinema could be affected by the political shift in the United Kingdom. The question was asked early on during CineEurope’s first panel session, The Business Case for European Content. “We have been working very hard on it,” admitted Isabel Davis, head of international, at the British Film Institute, who mentioned that around 95 percent of BFI’s constituency had voted to stay in the European Union. “We are not leaving Europe, we are leaving the EU, so we’re working very hard to ensure the best outcome for everyone concerned.”
Working through trade issues like those posed by the prospect of Brexit has become one of the central priorities for the Global Cinema Federation, who met at CineEurope on the first anniversary of its founding. International trade and investment stands out as one of the five key topics outlined by the group’s position papers issued on the eve of the event, receiving equal billing with theatrical exclusivity, movie theft, music rights, and accessibility. If government support is vital for the nourishment of national cinemas, international cooperation is crucial for its evolution.
The flow of European content across the region is part of what UNIC President Phil Clapp believes is a move toward greater diversity at the cinema. “Much has been made over the last couple of years about the increasing diversity of film content produced by our partners at the U.S. studios; films that reflect different narratives around race, gender, and disability. All are of course hugely important if we are to reach out to people from all backgrounds,” said Clapp in his keynote address at CineEurope. “Of course, for European cinema operators, diversity on-screen has another dimension. For most, if not all, European territories, the difference between a good and a very good year at the box office will depend as much as anything on the performance of domestically produced film content.”
As Clapp mentions, it appears that Hollywood studios have begun to heed the call for greater diversity on-screen. Studio slates have been gradually embracing diverse casts and creative talent, even as the business points toward a business model based on big bets on tentpole productions. “It’s challenging, when facing globalization and consolidation, to consider diversity in local markets. But there are plenty of examples out there that signal that including diversity and including a local perspective in these larger movies is great business,” said Stacey Snider, chairman and CEO of 20th Century Fox. Snider highlighted the success of films like Black Panther and Coco on a global level, going on to say that her studio’s spring hit, Deadpool 2, benefited from a diverse ensemble cast around star Ryan Reynolds. “We’re mindful that these big franchise films need to be original, they need to respond to local cultures and diverse casts.”
Snider believes that more inclusive casts and filmmakers in tentpoles is only the first step for studios to embrace a truly diverse slate. “The studios need to have a bigger appetite for big, cinematic tentpole type entertainment that isn’t necessarily based on IP-branded material,” she said. “I think there is folly in the studios that expect that more of the same will always bring a result. We want to continue with our X-Men and Deadpool movies, but at the same time we had great success with movies like Murder on the Orient Express and The Greatest Showman. We are very mindful of speaking to a global audience, but not doing it in a way that homogenizes the product. That’s where things fall off a cliff, when a consumer says, ‘I’ve seen this movie already.’”
It’s a self-evident maxim: every film won’t work in every market. At an executive roundtable on the first day of CineEurope, Tim Richards, CEO of VUE Cinemas, jokingly recalled a period 20 years ago when he would plead studios to stop making so many baseball films—the type of big-budget entertainment that rarely performs abroad. As the industry continues to take an increasingly global dimension, with multinational circuits increasing their footprint and market share around the world, exhibitors are tasked with important programming decisions across each individual market. “First and foremost, we are working for the public and for the audience demand; all exhibitors should know their territories—there are movies that will do better in certain territories than others,” said Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger at a CineEurope executive roundtable. “The days where we’d sell out the big auditoriums with the big movies, and we could push audiences to smaller movies—those days are gone. Here and there, we see an overflow, but in general the opening weekend sets the standard for the movie. We should try to offer as large a variation of movies as possible, but we cannot force our audience to go see movies they don’t want.”
Greidinger’s concern is well founded; empty auditoriums are an untenable trade-off for a greater variety of titles. It would be counterintuitive, however, to claim that a welcoming audience for diverse films doesn’t exist. Marine Suttle, director of product and strategic media accounts at Webedia Movies Pro (parent company of Boxoffice Media), shared findings from a weekly audience study the company is currently conducting in collaboration with French market research firm Vertigo Research. Known as BoxofficeProfile, the study conducts a weekly survey of moviegoers in the U.S., France, and the UK that can help identify underserved segments in the audience. According to Suttle, the potential of female moviegoers continues to be largely unrealized. She noted the importance of depiction—not merely inclusion—of female characters as part of their appeal to a wider audience. “Casting a female lead doesn’t automatically mean you’ll attract a female audience,” she said, using Gal Gadot’s interpretation of Wonder Woman as an example. The goodwill—and great box office returns—from Patty Jenkins’s stand-alone Wonder Woman film didn’t carryover to Justice League, where fans bemoaned the character’s limited role, typified by gratuitous shots of “Wonder Woman running around in a miniskirt.”
While the conversation around diversity has served as a catalyst for more inclusivity-driven thinking in the industry, there is a big distance between identifying a problem and addressing it. Calling for more films from female directors is a start, but that concern rarely translates to support for today’s generation of female filmmakers. This year has seen the release of critically lauded titles from contemporary female auteurs Lucrecia Martel (Zama) and Debra Granik (Leave No Trace)—with scant screen counts that leave much to be desired. Clare Binns, joint managing director of Picturehouse Cinemas, expressed her disappointment at this state of affairs at CineEurope during a focus session called Reaching out to the Female Audience. Binns cited the lack of a meaningful P&A budget on art house titles like the ones mentioned above; without an adequate marketing campaign, getting the word out to moviegoers often becomes an insurmountable challenge. It’s not that these films aren’t being made or released—it’s simply that not enough people come out to see them.
That problem is currently being addressed by a new program from Birds Eye View, a UK-based charity committed to promoting the female perspective in film. The organization launched Reclaim the Frame, an audience-development project that seeks to develop a network of “audience influencers” across five cities in the United Kingdom. According to Mia Bays, director of Birds Eye View, 43 percent of the program’s subscribers are women under 30.
Embracing diversity was a driving theme at CineEurope this year. UNIC’s commitment to the cause extends to the boardroom, as the organization announced the launch of its second annual Women’s Cinema Leadership Programme, meant to develop and broaden opportunities for women across the industry. From production to distribution and exhibition, CineEurope 2018 displayed progressive signals that the industry’s future will not only be brighter, but also more inclusive.