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UNIC interview series - Jaime Tarrazon & Mario Lorini

As cinemas are gradually reopening around Europe, UNIC has decided to conduct an interview series of its members, sharing their stories about welcoming audiences back to their cinemas and adapting to the ongoing crisis. This week, we have interviewed Jaime Tarrazon – UNIC Senior Vice-President and Treasurer, in charge of in charge of international relations at the Spanish cinema federation (FECE) and also co-CEO of the Barcelona-based Cines Filmax Granvia – in conversation with Mario Lorini, President of the Italian association of cinema operators (ANEC).

Italian cinemas were the first to close their doors in Europe, from 23 February in some regions and on 8 March across the country. Spain followed suit a week later, as all sites were ordered to close from 14 March. While the reopening process has been staggered locally, Italian cinemas were formally allowed to reopen from 15 June, while Spanish operators could restart their business as early as 25 May in some parts of the country.

In both territories, the national cinema associations have collaborated with local authorities in the drafting process of health and safety guidelines for the sector. Since they re-opened, Italian exhibitors must ensure a 1m minimum distance between patrons - who must wear a mask until they are seated - and limit capacity to a maximum of 200 people per room. In Spain, the occupancy limit evolves and varies from one province to another but on average is set at 50%, while masking-wearing is mandatory at all times. More details are included in our regularly updated online research on the impact of the Coronavirus outbreak on the European cinema industry.

Open air cinema in the Palazzo Pretorio, Prato / Cines Filmax Granvia, Barcelona

UNIC – Could you tell us a bit more about your association’s efforts to prepare for re-opening and ensure the safe return of cinema-goers?

Mario Lorini An intense effort was made by ANEC, the Italian association of cinema operators, to write down a proposal of guidelines - both for indoor and outdoor cinemas - to be shared with the Governmental experts’ committee through the Minister of Culture. A big help came from the Regions, many of which have proven particularly sensitive to the issues and challenges facing our sector and in ensuring that the safety measures adopted are compatible with the realities of operating a cinema. I cannot deny that, in some cases, there has been a certain degree of confusion because of potential conflicts between national rules and more permissive regional ones, or in reference to the obligation or recommendation to wear masks. Our priority remains to reassure movie-goers that cinemas are a safe place!

Jaime TarrazonFrom day one, FECE, the Spanish Cinema Federation, started working with the Spanish Government on support mechanisms for the sector during the long closure, as well as drafting of sanitary measures that could guarantee a safe re-opening. It was a tough process that required the whole industry to work together. We also sought external advice to measure the economic and social impact of the pandemic on our industry and to provide us with the necessary tools to navigate this crisis. We also made a poll of La Fiesta del Cine's attendees – the largest audience engagement campaign ever done in our industry anywhere – and obtained more than 200,000 answers from cinema lovers. That information is helping us deliver the right messages as the situation continues to evolve.

ML ANEC has been collaborating closely with distributors and the David di Donatello Awards to ensure the best conditions for cinemas to re-open. As part of our efforts, the #TurnTheCinemaBackOn flash mob was launched on 8 May, the same night of the 65th David di Donatello Awards, broadcast live on the national TV channel Rai 1. Hundreds of cinemas simultaneously turned their lights back on, for one night only. As over 1,600 cinemas and 4,200 screens stopped their activity from 9 March (in Northern regions since 25 February), we wanted to send an important message to remind all audiences and institutions of the social, cultural and economic function cinemas perform in the territory, as well as the need for a strategic project to re-launch the sector.

UNIC What was the audience's feedback as cinemas re-opened in your country?

JT Our loyal customers came back as soon as we re-opened. Some even came before the re-opening asking us about the scheduled date for it. We were surprised by the fact that all age groups were coming and, overall, our implementation of the safety guidelines and the training of our staff was very well received.

When we re-opened our cinemas in early July, we paid tribute to all the workers that had been fighting the pandemic on the front line, such as doctors, nurses, hospital staff, security forces, etc. Our message was that, of course, cinemas don't cure people nor save lives, but we provide experiences and memories that they will forever remember. This initiative was very well received, and it was a true cathartic moment as our cinemas were allowed to re-open their doors.

MLThe number of re-opened cinemas is gradually growing, but it is still limited because of the lack of new films – which is a worldwide phenomenon. Because of that, Italian cinemas are showing films that were screened before lockdown, as well as the titles originally due to be released from March and that were streamed by VOD platforms during the closure of cinemas.

With very few new titles expected until the end of August, the re-opening trend could be interrupted, if not reversed, and the willing to go back to cinema restrained. We therefore expect very poor results  compared to last year’s, one of the best summers of cinema in Italy and a strong recovery which continued until the beginning of 2020.

JTWe need new, fresh content to attract people back to the Big Screen. Releases that had been announced for mid-July have been delayed in Spain. We also re-opened cinemas with the same movies that we were showing in March when the lockdown was imposed on us, along with some re-runs of classic films. But that only works for a week or two. Summer has traditionally been the big blockbusters’ season, so this year we really have been missing these big event movies - I cannot wait for them!

UNIC – Have you had a chance to watch a film on the Big Screen yourself since cinemas have been able to re-open?

MLIn addition to the cinemas I run in Tuscany, in the province of Siena, I recently restarted the open air cinemas in Poggibonsi and in Certaldo (in the wonderful garden of Palazzo Pretorio) and being there I was able to feel how high the expectation was to enjoy a film with an audience again. The passion of cinema has remained strong in the past few months and now that it is possible to return to see a film on the Big Screen the public has responded well. I am anxious to be able to offer my audience a mix of blockbusters and quality films best suited to a slightly older audience.

JTI was so anxious to feel the magic of the Big Screen again that I sneaked into one of the first screen tests that we ran before the re-opening of one of our cinemas. It was an emotional film and I found myself crying alone in the dark. I felt really happy again. 

Let’s not kid ourselves, it is still a world run by men. Things are much, much better but there is still a long way to go.

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