Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Venice Beckons

I'll be attending a 10-day course in Venice in late August organised by the International Confederation of Arthouse Cinemas (which sounds like Star Trek's version of a cinema group) which is funded by various European bodies.

They kindly invited me and even provided some financial support, and City Screen pitched in as well. Its the only course of its kind in the world, designed specifically for cinema managers, focusing on marketing, programming, funding and pretty much anything else related to running an arthouse cinema. We also get a pass for the Mostra di Cinema (Venice Film Festival), so at least the evenings should be exciting.

This course highlights the lack of exhibition-specific training that exists in Europe. It is assumed that running a cinema is no different than retail, and that popcorn is the real business. I think this is a truism that could only apply to the multiplexes, where uniformity of experience and efficiency are paramount. If we are to attract audiences other than teenagers, we need to offer something beyond an acceptably projected film and a pile of over-priced sweets. Atmosphere, service, quality (in programming and in food & beverage) and the sense of a night out - these are the qualities that adult customers are looking for. Skillset, the UK's funding body for training in the film industry, focuses most of its efforts on film production. The same way the UK Film Council focuses the majority of its funding on making films that often never arrive at cinemas. We've built, with Lottery money, a perfect cake-making machine but no conveyor belt to take these cakes to the public. A pile of squashed cakes sits on the shelves of filmmakers across the country. If I could extend my baking metaphor, we need more bakeries and less bakers!

I would say that if any other industry skills are transferable to the arthouse experience, it's not retail, but rather venue/club/bar management. Add to that a passion for cinema and a keen knowledge of your customer base. So hopefully I will pick up some of these skills in Venice. If not, a handful of great films and the 'Queen of the Adriatic' awaits.

Some good films set in Venice:
- Everybody Says I Love You (Woody Allen)
- Death in Venice (Visconti)
- Don't Look Now (Roeg)
- Casino Royale (Campbell)