An Open Letter In Support Of The Italian Independent Cinemas

Italiano | Française

Italy is full of a myriad of small cinemas that serve their communities independently and courageously. At times, this is an exhausting task, but it is always rewarding in terms of the public’s appreciation.

In the present crisis which is seriously affecting the entire film industry, these cinemas are demanding that their voices be heard.

What is happening in the world, in these early months of 2020, is a crisis that no one was prepared for. In a few days, we found ourselves suddenly locked in our homes, limited in our freedoms, our work put on stand-by, exacerbated by the anguish of not knowing when and how we will be able to return to normal. This is true for every sector, but especially for those not deemed “essential” like cinemas, theatres, live music concerts, and all group events that involve social proximity.

We, the owners, managers, and workers who have been keeping our cinemas open and functioning for decades, want to use this suspension to not only focus on the future of our work in relation to the pandemic issue, but also as a moment of reflection on the importance of the cinema houses, and to plan together a plural, sustainable and fair future of cinema in general.

We are willing to adapt to and collaborate in those decisions that will be taken to protect the health of all that are compatible with our work, sustainable for our structures, and which are communicated without those useless alarmist attitudes that create the surreal perception that, somehow, a movie theatre is a more unsafe place than others.

We look forward to being able to comply with clear, and effective operational guidelines, and to assuming our responsibility along with professionals in other fields that will also be called upon. The extreme variety of architectural structures, organizational arrangements, and corporate approaches must be taken into account as we work together to create new procedures that will avoid discrimination, are sustainable, and protect the public health.

The mass media presently publishes reflections about what cinema “is” and what the future might bring, but they do not always ask for the opinion of those who are interested and directly involved in the profession. The result is often incomplete and the information biased in favour of those movie theatres (and distributors, and productions) which attract large audiences.

What is much needed instead is a much deeper and collective analysis that would take into account all the smaller and widespread movie theatres, that operate throughout Italy and that are strongly connected to the territory.

Cinemas are often the only cultural institutions in a small community and are easily accessible to all ages and social groups. They are places where emotions are amplified through shared viewing.

No other place – real or virtual – should be called “Cinema”. Without a dark room, the energy of a collective viewing or ‘shared immersion’, and an acceptable quality of projection which only a cinema can guarantee, the experience is reduced to merely “seeing a film“: without all of these essential elements it is a poor substitute for a cinematic experience.

It is important to us that all of the proposals and measures aimed at ferrying the sector towards a future of real recovery must take into account the importance of cinema, and in particular the myriad of neighborhood and village cinemas, especially the independent ones, which play such a key role in the plurality and variety of their programming. These proposals must also take into account the connection that local independent cinemas have with their communities and recognize that the initiatives presented by these theaters are accomplishing invaluable cultural and social work. Local independent cinemas are exposed to serious risks when confronted with the possibility of having to reopen following unsustainable regulations.

In this system of complex and delicate balances, we feel that the time has come to reaffirm some elementary market rules and good cultural practices.

A film destined for cinema must remain in the cinema. It is not comprehensible that hundreds of films are simply made unavailable for programming by cinemas: they remain visible on television and online, but not in movie theaters. We request that the so-called “theatrical right” be protected, thus allowing cinemas to program older films in tributes, retrospectives, and film forums. We also ask that films which were produced for streaming platforms or television and that have also been distributed in cinemas remain available for public screenings in theaters indefinitely.

All media that is presented in cinemas acquires an enhanced value and sustained recognition, thanks to the experience lived in the cinema itself.

The passage in cinemas, in fact, contributes to the enhancement and the successful repetition of the experience, well beyond the initial launch.

In the current model, anything that is linked to the subsequence exploitation of a film is made possible by the very first passage in cinemas.

It would also be desirable to make content produced for VOD service available for theatrical use, subject to agreement with the rights holders.

This reciprocal exchange would offer the audience the opportunity to enjoy such contents not only in a private but also in a shared environment.

The cinema sector must guarantee a sufficient variety of offerings and points of views, which is made difficult by a lack of original and challenging films, restrictive screening rights, and conflicts of interest within the distribution system. These challenges undermine the flexibility of the personalized curating offered by independent cinemas.

Finally, we demand an end to the unfair practices that have limited the market for years: guaranteed minimums, out of scale duration of showings, unlimited exclusivity of first screening films reserved for only a few theaters and without date limits, high rental quotas, the impossibility of multi-programming, and the impossibility of the “double program”: it is forbidden for instance – on Saturdays and Sundays – to show in the afternoon a family movie and in the evening an arthouse movie, even if they are not premières/first runs.

Each territory and each cinema has its own specific features, and must be able to make its choices in line with the nature of its location and audience. Programming choices, based on social and cultural service and the optimization of profits, should be made by those who know the territory and the context, with consideration for the strategies of the distributors, but without having to submit to limits which are contrary to the widespread diffusion of the culture of cinema.

Local cinemas play an integral part in the ultimate box office success of a film through their thoughtful selection and programming, curation, and their communication strategies to their target audiences that enhance participation in the community and ensure an attentive public.

Local independent cinemas enrich their communities by using their theaters to present debates which foster understanding, allow critics to offer reviews and reflections, offer a forum for directors to explain their vision, allow cast members to share their experiences, allow curators to explore innovative programming, and present other weekly appointments that support culture, intelligence, and critical thinking. Their work is appreciated by the participation and esteem of their audience: the theater IS its audience, bound by their shared emotions, doubts, and reflections.

For this reason we strongly ask that we all consider “life after Corona“ collectively, and include the role of the independent cinemas, and the authors, producers and independent distributors who have contributed in recent years to the richness, variety and cultural depth of the current film scene. These institutions and individuals all contribute to the vitality and future of a sector which plays an essential role in Italian cultural life: sadly, these institutions and individuals often receive less financial benefit from their cultural contributions than the corporations benefitting from their talents.

There will always be a thirst for cinema, shared culture, and communal experiences that celebrate our humanity: these essential needs must be addressed in the future that we build in the aftermath of Corona, and we need to be ready to start selling dreams again, which is what we do best.

Sign it!