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Unprecedented building fever and optimism at Dutch cinemas

The Netherlands' newest cinema is in Alkmaar and is called Vue. Opened on Sunday 14 February, this multiplex is also the first in our country to carry this name. Vue is the British chain that took over the 21 JT cinemas, including the one in Alkmaar, six months ago. Two trends come together here: foreign capital and the huge wind of new construction and renovation blowing through the Dutch cinema world. If only that goes well.

In that respect, the brand new complex in Alkmaar, where we are wrote about this earlier, no exception. In 2015, Pathé opened new multiplexes in Arnhem and Maastricht, Cinemec (owned by Pathé) did the same in Utrecht and Nijmegen, and Wijchen got the smaller Cinema Roma. After Alkmaar, new openings in 2016 are expected in Dordrecht, Breda, Maastricht, Rotterdam, Bergen op Zoom and Zwolle.

The mood is optimistic, as demonstrated earlier this year at the industry's New Year meeting. Not only was the number of venues in the Netherlands up by 34 to 893 in total, attendance also showed a 7 per cent increase in 2015 after years of stagnation. This is in contrast to declining figures in the performing arts sector.

Foreign chains

At the same time, the president of the Netherlands Association of Cinemas (NVB) Winnie Sorgdrager signalled that with the acquisition of JT by Vue, all cinema chains in the Netherlands are now in foreign hands. Pathé is French, Vue British and Kinepolis Belgian.

Wouldn't that new construction in the Netherlands have been possible on its own? JT director Ron Sterk suspects not. "The process of acquisitions has been going on for several years and is not limited to the Netherlands or Europe. In America, the world's largest cinema chain AMC was bought by Mr Wang Jianlin and thus fell into Chinese hands. Britain's Cineworld operates in Eastern Europe. Economies of scale give groups a stronger bargaining position against US studios and projection equipment manufacturers."

"Vue" operates in Italy, Germany, Poland, Denmark and Ireland, among other countries. The Dutch branches are the first on the mainland to get the 'Vue' name on the facade. After Alkmaar, the other 20 JT cinemas will also be renamed in the coming months."

Construction Drive

According to Sterk, the fact that the Netherlands is attractive to foreign groups has to do with the small number of cinema seats in relation to the size of the population.

The Netherlands is a white spot within Europe in that area, also confirms Gerben Kuipers, director of Cinemec. He opened Europe's largest 3D cinema in Ede a few years ago and has recently opened a new Cinemec in Utrecht and one between Arnhem and Nijmegen. The latter region, according to Kuipers, was seriously 'underscreend‘: "There is room for 15 to 20 halls in Nijmegen. It was half, and an old thing too."

Meanwhile, building plans here and there threaten to shoot through to the other side. In Arnhem, the new Pathé (9 theatres) has just opened and construction has started on the new Focus film theatre (5 theatres). At the time of writing, the city council has yet to give its verdict on Euroscoop's plan for a 10-screen multiplex.

In Nijmegen, both JT/Vue and Pathé are making plans for a new multiplex in the city centre, next to the existing Cinemec (8 theatres) and the renowned Lux film theatre (9 theatres). Pathé is aiming for a new theatre, JT/Vue wants to replace two outdated cinemas.

Utrecht already has a new Cinemec on the outskirts of the city and Kinepolis has a mega cinema under construction on the Jaarbeursplein. To Kuipers' relief, the plan for a large cinema on Paardenveld has been called off. "Utrecht would get 35 venues and that's really too many."

Optimism

Will all those new cinema seats soon be filled with visitors? Last year I wrote that the steady increase in attendance had stalled in 2011, despite ongoing new construction and improvement. The hopeful rise in attendance in 2015 could also be (partly) due to a number of highly successful blockbusters in that year.

NVB director Gulian Nolthenius does not share my reservations. He does see opportunities for further growth, citing as positive factors the new building, the movie theatre as a cultural meeting place, the cinema experience offered by 3D, Imax and Dolby Cinema, a varied film offer including blockbusters, customer knowledge (big data) and the effect of anti-piracy.

Ron Sterk sees that in ageing cinemas, attendance is declining, but also that new construction and expansion always lead to an increase in attendance. He is convinced there is a lot of net growth potential.

In Alkmaar, the old JT cinema (5 theatres, 900 seats) closed its doors on 31 January. Visits there were around 135,000 a year. In the new establishment, visitors can choose from 7 sleek and comfortably furnished theatres with a total of 1,530 seats. Three more rooms dedicated to Filmhuis Alkmaar will be added in April. Viewers can enjoy fine large screens, 4k laser projection, Dolby Atmos sound in three theatres, a very spacious foyer, seating overlooking the Noordhollands Kanaal and an adjoining restaurant. Based on experience elsewhere, Sterk expects visitation to increase to 350,000 in the first year, with subsequent growth to 400,000.

More than double, in other words. If that's not optimism.

Leo Bankersen

Leo Bankersen has been writing about film since Chinatown and Night of the Living Dead. Reviewed as a freelance film journalist for the GPD for a long time. Is now, among other things, one of the regular contributors to De Filmkrant. Likes to break a lance for children's films, documentaries and films from non-Western countries. Other specialities: digital issues and film education.View Author posts

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