“It will be difficult for films such as Another Round, Nomadland or The Father to have enough theatres to be screened in”
Industry Report: Distribution, Exhibition and Streaming
Laurent Dutoit • Distributor and exhibitor, Agora Films
CANNES 2022: We caught up with the Swiss distributor and exhibitor to discuss why exhibitors are struggling to attract viewers back to theatres
After the European Audiovisual Observatory conference “Key Trends in the Film Sector”, held at the Marché du Film on 19 May, Cineuropa caught up with Laurent Dutoit, member of Europa Distribution and distributor and exhibitor for Agora Films. In our conversation, we discussed the figures disclosed during the event and investigated the reasons why viewers are struggling to come back to cinemas after two years of the pandemic.
Cineuropa: During the conference, you said that this year’s Cannes Film Festival might play a crucial role within the European box office’s process of recovery. Why is that so?
Laurent Dutoit: When it comes to arthouse films, their launch at the Cannes Film Festival is an important one. [...] There are so many members of the press attending and it’s supposed to be the place where you watch the best films of the year. Now that we’re at the end of the festival, we can see we will have some difficult times ahead. A lot of films here are just good for a niche. We hope some of them will perform better, but from what I saw I don’t think any of them could do more than 500,000 admissions in France. It’s not that much, maybe just an ‘okay’ digit for arthouse films, but if we look at the films that were here in 2019, we had Tarantino [with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood], Ladj Ly [Les Misérables [+see also:
interview: Ladj Ly
film profile]], Bong Joon-ho [Parasite], Almodóvar [Pain and Glory [+see also:
interview: Antonio Banderas
Q&A: Pedro Almodóvar
film profile]], there were bigger titles...
We can all see how exhibitors are struggling to attract viewers back to theatres. But how can they intercept them?
I think 2021 was a better year. After having been closed for so long, audiences seemed very eager to come back. When we look at the Swiss figures from the second semester of 2021, we can see that the box office was down by 28%. If we look at the box office now, in 2022, we’re down by 43%. These figures are always in comparison with the average figures recorded in the period 2015-2019. [...] I believe we’re missing good films which could attract more audiences. We know that drama features and films with a political background or tackling huge social topics don’t perform really well because people after Covid don’t want to watch them...
So they look for more escapist options…
Yes, and we don’t have enough of these. From what we saw here in Cannes, those films seem not to be here, or they haven’t been selected. Hopefully, there will be some in Venice and Toronto.
Could you identify a specific target or age range that seems even more reluctant to go back to cinemas?
No, I’m an exhibitor as well, and when I look at the ticketing system, I can see that last year we were missing the older audiences – the 60+ viewers – and their numbers were significantly down compared to the pre-pandemic. But now things are back to normal.
So it’s a decrease equally distributed across different audience segments…
Yes. We can’t say it’s only the ‘youngsters’ who aren’t coming, or only the elderly. For two years, the elderly have been told they were at risk. We’re bringing them back, but it’s still not enough.
What about the impact of public support on the sector’s recovery?
In some countries, national authorities managed to support the sector. In many others, they were only helping exhibitors, but not distributors. Creative Europe’s intervention has been rather tardy. [...] In Switzerland, support will be active until next month. That’s also why we’re still here. In most of the Western countries, there has been support to level the losses, but the coming months will be hard. Even if the box office recovers and we reach a -20%, it’s still a drop in admissions. The problem of financial stability remains.
It seems indeed that the core problem is just attracting people back to cinemas, because according to the figures provided by the Observatory, the number of screens remained almost unchanged…
Yes, it’s also because theatres have been helped so far. It’s impossible to maintain this number of screens if they’re not supported anymore and the box office remains in such a state. Bankruptcy may come in the coming months and I’m not sure there’ll be as many cinemas open next year. It’s problematic because the weakest ones are those who offer more diversity. If we only have multiplexes showing Doctor Strange or Top Gun, which perform quite well, it will be difficult for films such as Another Round [+see also:
film profile], Nomadland or The Father [+see also:
interview: Florian Zeller
film profile] to have enough theatres to be screened in.
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