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War drama 1917 best-attended film in crisis year 2020 More room for independents and Dutch film

The contrast could hardly be greater. After the peak year of 2019, the cinema industry plunged deep into the coronadal in 2020. With a total of 15 weeks of closure and strict restrictions once theatres were allowed to reopen, attendance fell dramatically. From 38 million to 16.8 million visits, a decline of 56%.

The best-attended title was 1917 with over 1 million visits. This war drama benefited from release in January, when the virus was not yet a factor. The best-attended Dutch film, Sint-Hildegard's legs, drew barely 712 thousand viewers, making it number three in the overall 2020 top ten. A Dutch film has not reached that high in a long time.

Because that was a positive side effect of the corona disaster. Major US studios decided to postpone the release of most major blockbusters until better times. With Tenet as an exception. After all, the giga-investments have to be recouped. This made room for independent and also Dutch productions.

Presentation of annual figures

Traditionally, Film Distributors Netherlands (FDN) and the Netherlands Association of Cinemas and Film Theatres (NVBF) the figures on the first Tuesday of the new year. This time not at a well-attended New Year's reception, but online, of course. From the stage of an empty Pathé Tuschinski Theatre.

Ahead of the annual figures, some industry representatives shed light on the situation under the prompting of René Mioch. 'Falling down and getting up again' is the subtitle of the accompanying press release. Despite the seriousness of the matter - a third of exhibitors are in trouble - they clearly did not want to engage in doom and gloom. Although there was a hint here and there that the corona rules for cinemas might be a bit too strict.

Cautious optimism

Winnie Sorgdrager, president of the NVBF, acknowledges that corona is a serious threat to the industry. And that just in the year that cinema celebrates its 125th anniversary. But she also tastes, with the vaccine on the way, cautious optimism again. She stressed that it is in the industry's genes not to be complacent and to work energetically. Being flexible is important.

Indeed. With cinemas closing three times in the past year, the film calendar was constantly upside down.

That streaming services have taken advantage of the situation Sorgdrager does not see as a serious threat. Research shows that people who stream a lot are also more likely to go to the cinema. In addition, operators and distributors continue to invest in the future, according to the press release. New cinemas have come up in Haarlem, Nijmegen and Roosendaal. Several cinemas and film theatres have opened additional screens.

Cinemas safe

Jacques Hoendervangers, general manager of Pathé Theatres, also expressed positivity and optimism. However, he did think the government's decision-making was sometimes too quick and not careful enough. For example, the ban on the sale of refreshments. Now visitors quickly go to the supermarket to get them after buying a ticket.

He welcomes the support measures, but would like to see more customisation. Instead, the cinema industry led the way with an elaborate corona protocol, including keeping distance and proper ventilation. This made the cinema a safe environment. Mioch notes that no infections have been detected here yet.

Room for Dutch film

St Hildegard's legs (photo: Maarten van Keller)

Hajo Binsbergen, FDN board member and managing director Warner Bros. Holland pointed out that major US studios have delayed the release of many titles. With Tenet as a notable exception. At the insistence of director Christopher Nolan, Warner took the gamble of releasing the film anyway. It worked out well in the Netherlands, less so in some other countries. But Binsbergen finds the decision highly commendable. In the Netherlands Tenet second place, just behind 1917.

Klaas de Jager, managing director of Independent Films, underlined the importance of independent distributors. He saw how these jumped into the gap created by the postponement of blockbusters. Dutch cinema also benefited. Sint-Hildegard's legs even made it to third place in the overall top ten, quite exceptional. Hoendervangers echoed this with the observation that full and varied programming succeeds even if we depend less on Hollywood. He is proud of that.

Incidentally, De Jager noted that Dutch film production did come under pressure. Partly because the Abraham Tuschinski Fund, which is filled with a percentage of the receipts, has less to spend due to the corona crisis. So it is nice that OC&W made an extra 15 million available for arts and culture just before Christmas.

300 million euros in lost sales

Visits per week of play in 2019 and 2020

Finally, there were the annual figures, explained by Koen de Groot, analyst at the NVPI (entertainment industry trade association). The graph showing attendance in 2019 and 2020 clearly shows how and when the hits came. While in the first months of 2020 the growth of the years before still continued, in the months after that, attendance plunged 73% (56% over the whole year). Especially sour was the cinema closure from mid-December onwards. Normally, these are the best weeks of the year. Overall, the cinema sector suffered a revenue loss of €300 million from March to the end of 2020.

Internationally, the Netherlands did relatively well. In surrounding countries and in America, the decline was even greater.

Looking at the top ten in Dutch cinema, we see that it is no longer dominated by big US productions in 2020. The Dutch market share has increased from 12% in 2019 to 21% in 2020. Sint-Hildegard's legs even ranks third in the overall top ten. This best-attended Dutch film attracted more audiences than any other Dutch film in 2019.

Although everyone is having a tough time, the decline at movie theatres was comparatively not too bad. Attendance here fell by 42%, while the decline at major cinema groups was 59%.

Hope for recovery

Looking ahead, those present hope for a cautious recovery in 2021, although it will take a long time for all the damage to be repaired. Sorgdrager hopes that more space will soon be created so that the industry can slowly climb out of the doldrums. She noted that the Culture Council assumes a recovery period of five years, and that seems realistic to her.

In any case, a long queue of films is already pushing to lure audiences back to cinemas at the moment. Including, of course, the already twice-delayed Bond adventure No Time To Die. In addition to, among many others, our own The Battle of the Scheldt and Paul Verhoeven's Bernadetta.

Good to know Good to know

More information, including the press release, can be found on the websites of FDN and the NVBF. Also online the Dutch and general top ten and the key figures 2020.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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