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James Bond did well but still couldn't save 2021 cinema year from low point

It is a strong sense of déjà vu. I watch the presentation of the cinema industry's results, not at a cosy New Year's reception, but, like last year, in front of an empty auditorium at the Pathé Tuschinski theatre in Amsterdam. Again online. Another look back at a disappointing corona year. Although presenter René Mioch, clearly in good spirits, still manages to discover a bright spot. Tuschinski celebrated its centenary in 2021 and received the predicate 'royal'.

Last year, with vaccinations on the horizon, cinema and distributor representatives were still hoping for a cautious recovery in 2021 at the end of the presentation. Unfortunately, corona hit even harder if possible, resulting in an extended period of cinema closure. The figures in brief: 2021 closed with 14.3 million visits. 14.6% less than the already dramatically bad 2020, and 62.4% less than 2019. The most popular film was the new James Bond No Time to Die with 1.7 million visits. A big boost in this corona year. By comparison: Spectre, the penultimate Bond, achieved over 2 million visits in 2015.

The best-attended Dutch film was The Battle of the Scheldt with just under 508 thousand visits. Certainly not bad. Positive in this respect is the good Dutch market share: 23%, even slightly more than the 22% of the previous year.

Cinemas must open soon

Boris van der Ham, the new chairman of the Netherlands Association of Cinemas and Film Theatres (NVBF) noted when discussing the results that the fat really is now off the bones. He hopes it has dawned on the government that it is very important for cinemas to reopen soon. In view of infections, it is a very safe place. He also noted that he would like to help think about strengthening Dutch film production in the coming years. He would like to whisper useful suggestions to the new government. Hope is pinned on Gunay Uslu, the new State Secretary for Culture and Media.

Ron Sterk (vice-chairman NVBF and CEO Vue Nederland) also speaks of a terribly disappointing year. In September, with the new Bond, it seemed for a while that the misery would really be over now. Until another lockdown came in December. It is also difficult for the staff to stay motivated. Strong feels he was sometimes dismissed as a little boy in talks with the ministry.

He too stresses that there has never been a proven link between infections and cinema attendance, and that the industry has always been very careful to follow all regulations. Incidentally, he says government support has helped well, although it is not as well tailored to the big groups.

Meanwhile, we are a press conference on, during which the cultural sector was indeed put away like an impatient little child again. Perhaps there was still too little time to lobby the new government, but cinemas are staying closed. It would have been nice if there had been at least some more concrete substantiation for this. For instance, how many hospital admissions would the models predict in a cautious opening with appropriate precautions? Let Gunay Uslu get involved in this as a matter of urgency. Confidence she has, now she has to keep it. Or should cinemas also become civilly disobedient, like the hospitality industry in Valkenburg?

Printing on canvases

Klaas de Jager, board member Film Distributors Netherlands (FDN) and managing director Independent Films, notes that 2021 was a tougher year for independent distributors. When the US majors delayed many films in 2020, space was created for the others. Last year, many big titles were released again, putting more pressure on the canvases. He understands that operators are opting for No Time to Die, but that works down the chain. He cites as an example the Dutch film Everything on the table which came out on 4 November, had a good start, until in the fourth week the evening lockdown kicked in, plummeting visits by 80%. Two weeks later, the total lockdown. Very sour.

Sharita Hasnoe (chairman FDN and director of studio distribution Walt Disney Netherlands) also speaks of a very tough year, noting that by moving releases around, you lose the momentum of international promotion. With new measures every time, consumers lose the thread.

The figures

Cinema attendance in the Netherlands in 2019, 2020 and 2021

Hajo Binsbergen, FDN board member and managing director Warner Bros. Holland, was present to elaborate on the figures. With 14.3 million visits, 14.6% less than in 2020, 2021 was a very bad year. The second worst year even since registration began in 1918 (1992 was the low point). Main limiting factor, besides measures like introduction of the QR code and smaller hall occupancy, was the long period of lockdown. First until 5 June, then again from 19 December. As a result, the Netherlands also missed the traditional visitor peak around Christmas.

However, in the months when cinemas were open, 2021 did see more visitors than the previous year, although it did not reach 2019 levels.

Dutch film

Dutch film did not do comparatively badly. At 23%, its market share was even slightly higher than 2020's 22%. A great recovery compared to the meagre 12% of 2019. It seems that when cinemas reopen in tough times, audiences are eager to choose a Dutch film. The 2021 top 10 includes The Battle of the Scheldt with over half a million visits in third place.

Binsbergen also sees that in addition to young audiences, older people are also eager to come when the halls reopen. No Time to Die was widely attended, and in the movie theatres was The Father, which has to rely on an older audience, the best-attended film. Looking at the top 10 Dutch films, he sees that the composition was more varied last year, with less emphasis on the romcom.

Internationally, most countries did better than the Netherlands in 2021. Partly becauseg in neighbouring countries, cinemas were open around Christmas. In 2020, it was just the opposite.

A total of 301 titles were released in 2021. Less than in 2020 (331) and 2019 (492). But looking only at the period when cinemas were open, I see around 46 new titles per month in 2021, compared to 41 monthly releases in 2019.

Outlook for 2022.

Silver Rose and Rose

Two more awards will be presented at the end of the presentation. René Mioch, presenter of the event, shows sincere surprise and emotion when he learns that he is the one being honoured this year with the Jan Nijland Silver Rose. This award is given to a person or body of great significance to the Dutch cinema world. The incentive prize, the Jan Nijland Zilveren Roos, goes to Vereniging Onderlinge Studenten Steun Kriterion (Filmtheater Kriterion).

Good to know:

All annual figures and lists of best-attended films can be found at the FDN website.

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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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