2020 was a year of negative statistics. Percentage of theaters temporarily closed—percentage year-on-year drop in admissions and revenue—box office numbers that look positively nightmarish compared to the record-breaking year that was 2019. Look beyond the sky-is-falling headlines, though, and you’ll find that the global theatrical exhibition industry still has success stories.
Some of those stories were at the center of UNIC’s virtual mini-Cinema Day, held Wednesday, February 24. The two-hour conference—a shortened, digital version of UNIC Cinema Days, an annual event attended by industry leaders from the 38 countries UNIC represents—had as its focus local content; specifically, how an uncertain Hollywood release schedule has created an opportunity for locally-produced content to thrive in such countries as Poland, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway. (Boxoffice Pro has previously written about the success of select local titles in Japan, China, and Nigeria.)
As noted by UNIC CEO Laura Houlgatte-Abbott in her introductory remarks, 2020 saw a record 15 European territories achieve a market share of over 25 percent for local cinema.
Lack of competition, pointed out CEO Asger Flygare Bech-Thomsen of Nordisk Film Cinemas, was a major factor in the success of Druk (Another Round)—one of several local titles profiled in UNIC’s virtual mini-Cinema Day for how they were able to combine well-planned timing, energetic marketing, and just plain good filmmaking to get people out to the movies in their respective countries. The others were Life As it Should Be (the Netherlands); Petla and 25 Years (Poland), and Børning 3 (Norway), more details of which can be seen here in the recording of the UNIC event.
Broader issues of local content—their success during the pandemic and how that success can be extended after the spigot of Hollywood releases is turned back on—were the subject of a centerpiece panel with moderator Houlgatte-Abbott and industry experts Edna Epelbaum (CEO, Cinevital, Cinepel, Cinemont, Quinnie & President, Swiss Cinema Operators’ Association), Christian Bräuer (Managing Director, Yorck–Kino & President, CICAE), Christine Eloy (Managing Director, Europa Distribution), and Samuel Bolaños (Director of Marketing & Revenues, Cinépolis Spain, Yelmo Cines).
A theme that emerged here was balance—that for UNIC member countries, a mix of American blockbusters and local content is necessary as Europe emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic. The issue lies with marketing—specifically, that smaller local productions may not have the millions available to their Hollywood counterparts to raise awareness for a project the public might not know about. Panelists agreed that it’s necessary for exhibitors and local distributors to have a close relationship, building excitement around films with traditional P&A but also a digital/social media strategy. But in-person marketing, are also key to marketing local films moving forward: organizing events and having audiences feel a personal connection and investment with local films, so they don’t get washed away in the coming tide of big-budget American content.