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UNIC’s We Love the Big Screen Conference

On 18 February, UNIC organised its fourth conference at the European Parliament in Brussels – the first of the new mandate following May’s European elections. The event, co-sponsored by MEPs Tomasz Frankowski (PL, EPP Group), Ibán García del Blanco (ES, S&D Group) and Laurence Farreng (FR, Renew Europe Group) welcomed over 80 attendees from across the European institutions and the wider cultural and creative sectors to discuss the current trajectory of European cinema-going, audience trends and the latest in policy developments that impact the sector.

Welcoming everyone to the event, UNIC Senior Vice-President and Co-CEO of Cines Filmax Gran Via, Jaime Tarrazón, pointed to the phenomenal performance of European cinemas in 2019. Overall, attendance figures were up 4.5% on the previous year, which reflected “stellar performances in a number of UNIC territories,” such as France, Spain and the Czech Republic. In addressing the subjects to be explored during the event, he explained that “when thinking about Europe’s passion for the Big Screen, its audiences seem a good place to start” and emphasised that “a bright and prosperous future for cinemas would certainly be more challenging without policies that support the sector.”

MEP Tomasz Frankowski then took the floor and highlighted the “important” and “timely” nature of the debate, given ongoing discussions as to the future of the Creative Europe MEDIA Programme and the overall EU budget to accompany it. Moreover, European cinemas had “enormous” potential, and 2019’s figures were all the more encouraging “at a time when audiences [had] a lot of choice.”

Executive Director of Comscore Movies, Lucy Jones, then set the scene for the first of the afternoon’s panels by outlining trends in European audiences, with a focus on the German and UK markets. Most crucially, however, when looking at the previous year’s cinema-going figures, Jones reminded everyone that there was “more to it than just box office data,” as the positive effects of the creative industries were also visible in their impacts on employment and local economies.

The first panel of the day then focused on “The Big Screen Experience – What do audiences really want?”, for which moderator Helen Budge (Senior Writer, Celluloid Junkie was joined by panelists Leigh Thomas (Director of Business Development, Into Film), Christof Papousek (Managing Partner, Cineplexx), Susanne Fläxl (Managing Director, Cineplex Neufahrn) and Toni Purvis (Director, International Delivery & Operations, Amblin Partners).

The discussion spanned a broad range of subjects, while keeping audiences firmly in mind, such as the continued relevance of cinema, its status as the gold standard for film presentation and the importance of keeping future audiences as well as those of all ages firmly in mind. Panelists shared such thoughts as to cinemas bringing together “world-class stories” and the best possible technology, while pointing to the importance of their “non-distractive environment” and the fact that “people who love Netflix also love the cinema.”

To close the panel, MEP Laurence Farreng provided a few words on the value of the cinema experience:

“The Big Screen experience is more precious than ever – it allows us to fully immerse ourselves in a film, without external distractions. The dark room, the Big Screen - it's our space and moment of freedom.”

“La salle obscure nous est plus que jamais précieuse, car elle nous éloigne de toute sollicitation et nous permet de nous plonger dans une œuvre, sans parasitage de notre attention. Le noir, le grand écran, c'est notre espace et notre moment de liberté.”

MEP Ibán García del Blanco then addressed the room and outlined the European Parliament’s support for film and cinemas, with special mention of the LUX Film Prize. He shared his view that the “shared emotions of film viewing on the Big Screen offer[ed] us some of the most precious memories” and noted the positive impacts of cinemas in societies and local communities.

To set the scene for the second, policy-focused panel – “Looking ahead – European policies for film and cinemas” - Senior EU Policy Officer for the Association of Commercial Television in Europe (ACT) Johanna Baysse outlined the numerous legislative developments that had taken place during the previous mandate, including the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD), Copyright Directive and Satcab II, all of which were now in their implementation phases. Baysse also noted that, “if you enjoy high quality content, territoriality is not an option, it’s simply a necessity” and explained the importance of a territorial approach to licensing and exclusivity for the entire film and AV ecosystem.

The panel itself welcomed Pauline Durand-Vialle (Chief Executive, Federation of European Film Directors - FERA), Jaime Tarrazón, Lucia Recalde (Head of Unit, Creative Europe MEDIA, DG CONNECT, European Commission) and Christine Eloy (Managing Director, Europa Distribution). Panelists touched upon a broad range of subjects, including the importance of the Creative Europe MEDIA Programme, the value of collaboration across the film value-chain and the need to allow sufficient time to enable the proper implementation of a number of significant pieces of legislation for the sector. In addition, it was agreed that we needed to “convince people of how important culture is and that we should support it.”

UNIC CEO Laura Houlgatte then closed the afternoon’s discussions and reminded those present of UNIC’s upcoming screening, System Crasher, on 2 March in Brussels, as well as its future “My Favourite Cinema” campaign – watch this space!  

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