Italy’s version of National Cinema Day — a five-day event called Cinema in festa offering discount tickets for certain films at participating theaters across the country —has proved a major success, with more than 1.1 million people crowding in, bringing in around $3.9 million (€4 million) in box office revenue. Compared to the previous week, that represents a $2.1 million (€2.2 million) box office jump.
Inspired by National Cinema Day in the US and the UK, and similar cinema promotion events in France and Spain, Italy’s Cinema in festa 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, from September 18-22, tickets at participating cinemas were fixed at $3.40 (€3.50).
The discount applied to a mix of new releases and re-run titles, with Universal’s animated hit Minions: The Rise of Gru and Gianni Amelio’s local-language drama The Lord of the Ants the most popular films during the event, alongside a re-release of James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) which pulled in $336,000 (€347,000) on a single day.
“This was without a doubt a success,” says ANEC’s general manager Simone Gialdini. “The first days went very well considering the time of the year and the movies screened.” Gialdini noted that, during the promotion, Italy’s cinema admissions topped those in France, despite France having “almost twice as many working screens as Italy.”
This isn’t Italy’s first Cinema in festa. The country ran similar national ticket discount promotions in 2018.
But this year’s event comes as the Italian cinema industry is in the midst of a near-existential crisis. Box office, battered by the coronavirus pandemic, has yet to recover. While the Cinema in festa promotion accounted for hundreds of thousands of additional tickets sold, the overall admissions were still sharply down on pre-pandemic figures, off 57 percent compared to the equivalent week in 2019.
Not all theater owners backed the initiative. The PostModernissimo cinema in Perugia, for example, posted its objection on social media, explaining why they wouldn’t be taking part in the Cinema in festa.
“We celebrate cinema everyday,” says PostModernissimo director Giacomo Caldarelli. “Personally I don’t think these initiatives are needed. We already offer a discount on Wednesdays, selling tickets at €4 with a schedule of original language titles. That’s always been a day with a great turnout. In that case, the economic offer overlaps with the cultural offer. A discount for the discount’s sake makes no sense to us, therefore we rejected it.”
If Italy really wants to help its struggling cinema owners, Caldarelli says, they should let exhibitors themselves dictate how and when promotions are done.
“In this case, even with more customers coming in, the earnings are not going to increase accordingly,” he notes. “Will people attracted by discounts come back? Last time they didn’t…We can’t just chase after our customers with discounts and subscriptions like streaming platforms do.”
Caldarelli points to the example of France which has similar discount promotions but is more broadly supported by the government.
“We, as theater owners, have benefited from government aid during the Covid emergency, however [now] we’re trying to give something back to our community, organizing events and meetings, sometime for free…reducing everything to discounts, without any editorial logic, is something we do not agree with. We want to give out discounts when and how we want.”
Gialdini from ANEC says the main goal of this year’s Cinema in festa was to bring people back back to theaters post-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 coming, Cinema in festa will return 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.