Amsterdam—Sep 3, 2004
Wider Screening for Specialist Films with the Launch of European Docuzone
180 Independent Cinemas in Nine Countries to be Transformed into Digital Cinemas
Expanding on its success in bringing documentary films to the big screen in
the Netherlands, European DocuZone (EDZ) plans to launch across nine European
countries November 12th and 13th. The initiative will transform over 180
specialist cinemas into digital cinemas and will benefit distributors and
filmmakers by cutting release costs while offering audiences a broader selection
EDZ is working with autonomous partners in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany,
The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Slovakia and the UK to establish the network.
In addition to locally produced films in each country, the organisation aims to
distribute at least 12 European documentary films in the first year. It also has
plans to expand the initiative to include other specialised programming such as
shorts, animation and low-budget features.
“At a time when major US studios are negotiating about how to get digital cinema
rolling, we are actually building the first pan-European digital distribution
network,” said Kees Ryninks, managing director of EDZ. “The reduced cost of
digital cinema technology combined with the growth in popularity of
cinema-release documentary films such as ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’, ‘Touching the Void’
and ‘Être et Avoir’ convinces us that our timing is perfect.”
The Netherlands Film Fund established the original DocuZone project in 2002 to
determine the impact of switching to digital distribution – particularly whether
digital could benefit the more vulnerable film genres and reverse declining
audience figures. In its first year the results from the ten participating
cinemas exceeded expectations by 50 percent.
Further evidence that there is an audience eager for documentaries in other
markets comes from research conducted by Docspace, EDZ’s UK partner, in 2002.
This research revealed that the audience wishing to see documentaries on the big
screen has an average age just under 30, is well-educated and watches much less
than an average amount of television. “This audience profile is good news for
cinema advertising too,” commented Ryninks.
Cinemas can also use the digital technology to broadcast alternative content,
such as rock concerts, musicals and sports events. According to industry
analysts, Screen Digest, screenings of alternative content will account for one
third of cinemas' profits by 2008.
With funding from the European Union’s MEDIA PLUS programme, as well as local
funding and through private partnerships, EDZ will invest in the latest digital
cinema technology. It plans to establish a central archive database holding all
subtitled versions of the films. EDZ will manage postproduction to guarantee
high quality subtitling, compression and encryption. The network will consist of
a digital satellite/server system connected to digital projectors at the highest
standard available. By giving independent cinemas subsidised technology, they
will have an easy, low risk way to transform into digital screens.
Not only will this open up the selection of big screen European documentaries,
it also gives cinemas the flexibility to schedule screenings to maximise
revenues. To take advantage of interest when film reviews are published, for
example, a film could open simultaneously across all EDZ cinemas as a
pan-European premier with a satellite-linked Q&A with the director. The cinemas
in the partnership will also collaborate on joint audience research, marketing
and publicity to reduce costs.
Increasingly documentaries are shot digitally as filmmakers become aware of the
benefits of additional control and freedom with cheaper production methods. At a
fraction of today’s costs for blow-up, print and transport, distributors, and
filmmakers too, will now be able to reach a wider audience. Currently, a typical
three print documentary release costs a minimum of €60,000 to €70,000 using
traditional celluloid. “With over 200 cinemas in a single network we are already
gaining such substantial economies of scale in distribution that we can now
offer a new way for small specialised European films to hit the big screen and
reach a new audience,” concluded Ryninks.