The Italian version of National Cinema Day – a five-day event called Cinema in festa with discount tickets to select films at participating theaters across the country – has proved a huge success, with more than 1.1 million people gathering for about $ 3.9 million (€4 million) in box office income. Compared to the previous week, that represents a box office jump of $2.1 million (€2.2 million).
Inspired by National Cinema Day in the US and UK and similar cinema promotion events in France and Spain, Cinema in festa in Italy was organized by the national audiovisual group ANICA together with exhibitors association ANEC with the support of the Italian Ministry of Culture and with the collaboration of the Italian Cinema Academy. For the five-day period, September 18-22, tickets at participating theaters were set at $3.40 (€3.50).
The discount was applied to a mix of new releases and re-released titles, featuring Universal’s animated hit Minions: The Rise of Gru and the local language drama of Gianni Amelio The Lord of the Ants the most popular films at the event, in addition to a reissue of James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) who raised $336,000 (€347,000) in one day.
“This was without a doubt a success,” said Simone Gialdini, ANEC CEO. “The first days went very well given the time of year and the films shown.” Gialdini noted that during the promotion, cinema visits in Italy were higher than those in France, despite France having “almost twice as many working screens as Italy”.
This is not Italy’s first cinema in Festa. The country had similar national discount promotions for tickets in 2018.
But this year’s event comes as the Italian film industry is in the midst of a near-existential crisis. The cash register, battered by the coronavirus pandemic, has yet to recover. While the Cinema in Festa promotion accounted for hundreds of thousands of additional tickets sold, total admissions were still well below pre-pandemic numbers, down 57 percent from the comparable week in 2019.
Not all theater owners supported the initiative. Cinema PostModernissimo in Perugia, for example, posted its objection on social media, explaining why they would not participate in Cinema in festa.
“We celebrate cinema every day,” says PostModernissimo director Giacomo Caldarelli. “Personally, I don’t think these initiatives are necessary. We already offer a discount on Wednesdays and sell tickets for €4 with a schedule of original language titles. That has always been a day with a big turnout. In that case, the economic offer overlaps with the cultural offer. A discount because of the discount makes no sense to us, so we rejected it.”
If Italy really wants to help its struggling movie theater owners, Caldarelli says, they should let exhibitors decide how and when promotions are run.
“In this case, even if more customers come in, the revenue won’t increase accordingly,” he notes. “Will people who are attracted by discounts come back? Last time they didn’t… We can’t just chase our customers with discounts and subscriptions like streaming platforms do.”
Caldarelli points to the example of France, which has similar discounts, but is more widely supported by the government.
“However, we, as theater owners, have benefited from government support during the Covid emergency [now] we try to give back to our community, organize events and gatherings, sometimes for free… reducing everything to discounts, without any editorial logic, is something we don’t agree with. We want to hand out discounts when and how we want.”
ANEC’s Gialdini says Cinema in Festa’s main goal this year has been to bring people back to theaters after the pandemic, something he thinks the event succeeded in doing. He also notes that the Italian government is doing more than just offering discount tickets, pointing to an additional €10 million in state funding for the Italian film industry. “[And] we won’t stop there,” he notes.
Whatever else is to come, Cinema in Festa returns in 2023. Gialdini says there will be two cinema promotion weeks next year, one in June and one in September, the week after the Venice Film Festival.