Is there a future for documentaries in movie theaters?
La Compagnia Cinema, in the heart of Florence, just a few steps away from the Duomo, is working on it. In fact, in addition to hosting city festivals it is also dedicated to scheduling documentaries.
This vocation for the documentary genre is not new for the city that can claim this sector’s oldest event, the Festival dei Popoli which, in more than half a century of activity, has “brought the world to the movie theater”.
The property of the Regione Toscana [Tuscan Region] which restructured the building, La Compagnia was reopened last October. It had previously been a movie theater that was redesigned at the end of the ‘80s by architect Adolfo Natalini and transformed into a theater, then was a cinema again until it closed in 2005. With its 463 seats, cutting edge technology, 50 seat multimedia room, meeting spaces and attached bar-restaurant, La Compagnia holds another record for Florence since there are no other movie theaters in Italy dedicated to documentaries.
“We treat each film and each viewer with great care and attention” Stefania Ippoliti assures us. She heads the cinema and multimedia library area of the Fondazione Sistema Toscana that handles La Compagnia’s programming.
Since December La Compagnia has been taking its first steps in programming, every month proposing around twenty titles interspersed with the important international Festivals that the city hosts. Thanks to the possibilities offered by multiprogramming, the schedule is very varied and, at the same time, “inclusive”: in fact it crisscrosses the playlist of proposals and the different types of audience with the times that are considered to be most suitable for the various types of movie-goers.
Therefore, with Best of, events are brought back (like those programmed by Nexo digital distribution) and placed in the “normal” schedule: “we want to give these movies the chance of a less frantic life. If those two Nexo dates are missed, it should still be possible to see a movie that interests us at our leisure, at a later date…we are purposely a slow theater”.
Biographies, musical and social themes have a considerable appeal for younger audiences (in March we had titles like “Gabo, the
creation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez” by Justin Webster, “Gimme Danger” by Jim Jarmush, “A good American” by Friederich Moser), and for all the enthusiasts there are also occasions that are made more special by the presence of the film-maker who accompanies his or her movie (in the same month we had six titles, including “Senza Lucio” by Mario Sesti, “Io ci sono” by Luciano Manuzzi, and “Sarajevo Rewind 2014>1914” by Eric Gobetti and Simone Malavolti).
On Sundays there is Cinema in famiglia [Family cinema]: “In the big theater we propose documentaries for adults and in the small theater next door, the multimedia room, there are youth leaders who educate children about cinema, showing cartoons, short films and entertaining them with activities that are both fun and intelligent”; there are also collaborations with the city, like the one with the associations of families with autistic children that accompanied the screening of “Life, animated”, by Roger Ross Williams, or with the festivals: the day of March 8th was programed in collaboration with the Women’s Cinema Festival.
“We don’t necessarily want big audiences but rather lots of audiences: our job is to bring to the cinema people who don’t go there or don’t go anymore. The cost of the tickets is very accessible (€ 5, a subscription to 10 shows costs between € 35 and 40), we open early in the afternoon for the senior target audience that wants to go home by 7 p.m.: these are the people who used to be the most assiduous cinema-goers, the people who were born and grew up with cinema. Here our task is not to get them used to the cinema, but to encourage them to get out”.
“One not very simple problem is finding lots of documentary films to schedule. It is true that we can count on the expertise of the Festival dei Popoli, the Schermo dell’Arte and the other festivals that are precious antennas for us and tell us which titles to go for”, says Stefania Ippoliti, “but we would like the Italian distributors, of which there are, actually, many excellent ones also in this field, to evaluate La Compagnia’s special features and the usefulness of the work we are doing, because reality cinema is becoming increasingly well established. In this phase our message to them is: La Compagnia can give a movie the care that a normal exhibitor cannot guarantee because the latter, quite rightly, has to turn a profit”.
“We can dedicate particular care to the way we welcome our audiences, thanks to our staff of young people who all have degrees in the history of cinema or Drama, Arts and Music Studies; they take turns to write the synopses, the programs, they introduce the films, talk to the audience. This is certainly not something every movie theater can do”.
However, she immediately clarifies: “Our philosophy is to come along a er the exhibitors. If other theaters are interested in the same film we take a step back, we’ll schedule it after them”.
“ The Regione Toscana with its cultural policy (it sustains the management and promotion costs), makes it possible for us not to have to put box office takings first. is doesn’t mean making a loss, but simply that market performance is not the main objective of our work”. Coherently with the mission assigned by the regional institution, “we don’t have to put ourselves against the takings but rather the quality of the results. Our biggest success is to see the takings go up in other theaters when they schedule documentaries as well”.
The future: “In two years’ time I would like it if we no longer talked about documentaries as a genre for a select few or, in certain cases, the opposite, for culture fashionistas, but for them to be treated in the same way as all the other genres, like comedies, thrillers or fantasy movies”. In the meantime, a first important assessment of the work started will come from the rendezvous with Hot Docs, the most important festival in the world dedicated to documentaries to be held in Toronto from 27 April to 7 May.
Stefania Ippoliti would like to propose a twinning arrangement with the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema to the president Chris McDonald: “We would also like to present to Italian audiences films that have not yet got distribution but bear the Canadian theater’s brand as this would make Italian distributors eager to fill out their lists”.