There’s a new €1.5 million EU fund for the innovation and development of cinema. Germany’s questionable candidate for a grant might show that, once more, funding has failed the country’s creatives.
Trains and flights are packed, but theatres and cinemas are empty. Hit with harsh hygiene regulations and the rise of streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon, the future of cinema is more uncertain than ever.
To try and help, the EU-organization Creative Europe launched a project called “Cinemas as Innovation Hubs for Local Communities”. They called for innovative ideas which aim to preserve, evolve and keep cinemas relevant – all in cooperation with other European countries. Each country chooses one of the projects submitted by its local creatives to proceed into the next round of Europe-wide pitching. The neat sum of €1.5 million will then be distributed amongst the projects according to how many votes they receive by the jury.
So, what are they looking for? The project’s website reveals aims like “rethinking the cinema experience” and the “creation of cultural hubs centered around cinemas”. In short, they want cinema to be more than a passive entertainment pastime.
With that in mind, the German Board’s (which we’ll call Germany later for simplicity) submission for this opportunity of cultural development and exchange feels questionable. It is a project called CVOD, which seems to stand for Cinema Video On Demand, a cinema streaming platform which is basically a Netflix for cinema releases. Their concept, which they call “innovative” and “new”, seeks to bring a new income source to cinemas by allowing them to transfer their content online. Customers have limited seat availability and pay the same as they would for a live cinema visit.
This doesn’t feel well thought through. The idea is to support cinemas financially, but what kind of cinema is saved by people not going there? And how does it help cinemas broaden their cultural impact across Europe? More than anything else, CVOD seems to counteract the necessity of cinema by, yet again, offering a streaming platform that substitutes the big-screen for TVs and laptops. While a transfer to an online platform is a very pandemic-friendly idea, it isn’t sustainable for the future of cinemas, nor does it accommodate for the fact that the cinemas need people to attend now more than ever.
Germany’s runner-up pick makes the decision to go with CVOD even more absurd. This Berlin-based project, called “Cinema & Bar in the Royal City” (Kino & Bar in der Königstadt) perfectly encapsulates all the aims set out by Creative Europe. It is a small cinema in need of funding, with a mainstream-dodging, independent program. It collaborates with streaming giants such as Netflix but screens them on the big screen. It rents out its halls to international and local film festivals, as well as to production firms for screenings or colour-grading. It hosts industry-developing and cultural events, all the while being welcoming to any passerby for a cinema visit or drink in the bar.
Sparked by curiosity – and, let’s face it, bafflement – about Germany’s decision, we contacted the decision-makers at the German Creative Europe branch, where a spokesperson made us think that Germany’s decision was guided by economic potential, rather than a cultural one. The spokesperson argued the Cinema & Bar will “find its way”, and that they went with something more “financially promising”, which CVOD seems to be with the major production firm Pantaflix as a partner. While this decision would be understandable in a business context, it feels misplaced when seeking to support cultural projects.
This decision brings to light an underlying issue in Germany’s treatment of culture and arts: funding is often sent where money is either guaranteed or already present, not where it is actually needed. It’s a paradox that contradicts the role of arts funding, the warped reasoning that leads to the next reboot of Bibi & Tina or the year’s hundredth rom-com.
It remains to be determined how much attention CVOD will receive in the transnational decision-making. However, the German Board’s decision is painfully telling of how, even when room is made for culture and innovation, the focus will be money.