‘Surprised at success’: €1 tickets boost art-house cinemas in Belgium
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‘Surprised at success’: €1 tickets boost art-house cinemas in Belgium

Credit: Belga

To make sure small and art-house cinemas will be able to survive the coronavirus crisis, the Wallonia-Brussels Federation has launched an initiative to draw people back to the movies this summer.

By offering €1 seats in 11 art-house cinemas every Tuesday until the end of August, the campaign “J’peux pas, j’ai cinéma” (I can’t, I’m going to the cinema), launched by the Wallonia-Brussels Federation wants to support small cinemas in staying afloat after 15 weeks of forced closure.

As the number of people present depends on how many can be seated while keeping a 1.5 metres distance, the number of seats per screening is limited, and will work according to the first-come, first-served principle.

Cinemas in Belgium were allowed to open again from 1 July, but during each month of the lockdown, the sector has lost approximately €20 million, according to figures by the Federation of Belgian Cinemas.

To make up for the loss, Belgian cinemas have launched some initiatives to salvage some of what is left of the year. In Flanders, public broadcaster VRT and Antwerp production company Geronimo will cooperate with Kinepolis to set up drive-in cinemas across the region.

In a push to also help small and art-house cinemas survive the coronavirus crisis, the Francophone government wanted to make sure small cinemas would not be forgotten.

“We bought 15,000 tickets from the cinemas, and we sell them for €1,” Eric Franssen of the Centre for Cinema and Audiovisual Media, and coordinator of the campaign, told The Brussels Times. “This way, the cinemas still get the income, and people will be more likely to start going again,” he added.

“The campaign has been going on for a week, and so far, it has been a success. Many cinemas were surprised that it worked so well,” Franssen said. The campaign sold about 1,600 tickets, which is about 140 tickets per cinema, on average.

Asking people to pay a small sum for the tickets instead of giving them away for free prevents no-shows, according to Franssen. “As so few seats are available, we want to make sure they are filled,” he said.

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“We heard that many small cinemas would have great difficulty to survive the coronavirus crisis without support,” Franssen said, adding that the extra cost of, for example, providing hand gels was already too much for some of them.

“Many of them were considering just staying closed and some were on the brink of shutting down completely,” he said.

Even though poorly-ventilated indoor settings are among the riskiest environments for the virus to spread according to health experts, the initiative is not breaking any rules or increasing the risk of infection at all, the organisation said.

“The number of people allowed inside a theatre still depends on how many can be seated in such a small room. We are just making sure that it is worth it for the cinemas to reopen,” Franssen said.

“The distance of 1.5 metres between people, or between bubbles of maximum 15 people, has to be respected at all times,” Nicolas Parent, spokesperson for the Francophone Culture Minister Bénédicte Linard, told The Brussels Times.

Even if the room can seat more people, the maximum of viewers allowed inside, as determined by the National Security Council, is 200 people. For open-air events, like Kinepolis’ drive-in cinemas, up to 400 people can watch a movie together.

“Apart from following the expert-approved protocol, no additional measures were taken,” Parent said, who also added that it is only “common sense” that extra attention will be paid to making sure people respect all measures at all times.

The Cinema Federation will also meet with health experts to re-evaluate the protocols and the measures towards the end of July. “We are hoping that some measures could be relaxed, like the minimum distance between people,” Parent said.

However, as the number of new infections in Belgium has stopped decreasing, it is not certain that even the planned relaxations, such as doubling the number of people allowed from August, will go through.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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