The Renoir cinemas have been through the last twenty years a reference point of the screening of quality cinema in original version, especially European cinema, in the Balearic Islands, first for the city of Palma, with 300.000 inhabitants, and then for the island of Majorca, with 1.000.000 of inhabitants -among them more than 150.000 foreign citizens. Other similar existing options in the island (Chaplin cinemas, Lumière cinemas, etc) had disappeared throughout the last decade, and the last four Renoir cinema theatres (with a total of 600 armchairs) turned into the last refugee for local film enthusiasts and residents who were eager to see cinema in original version.
Despite having a clients club with more than 3.600 members and counting with the support of a big distributor, Alta Films -owner of many cinema theatres with the same name, Renoir, in Spain- the closure of the Renoir cinema theatres in Palma was announced at the end of April. The reasons for the closure were the financial difficulties of the owning company to tackle with the digitalisation of the the cinema theatres in a context of generalised crises, and an important decline in box-office revenue in the last financial years.
Since the very first days of the closure announcement, an spontaneous movement of dissatisfied spectators began to take shape, and a mass meeting was called to bid the Renoir cinemas a sad farewell on Sunday the 6th of May 2012.
The same day of the closure, a group of spectators presented an initiative under the name “Let’s save the Renoir” (originally written in Catalan, the official language of the Balearic Islands) which consisted of distributing a sheet for a recollection of names, emails and telephones, and the creation of an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) where all those interested could register to be part of this citizens’ initiative. The initiative consisted of attracting people decided to pay a monthly quantity to tackle with the fixed expenses of the cinema theatres and ensure their viability. Still without real data about the operative expenses of the cinema due to the lack of information derived from the spontaneity of the initiative, a group of 200 members paying 20€ per month was established as the minimum necessary to ensure the viability of the initiative.
The initiative was published in the local press, which had attended the mass meeting on Sunday the 6th of May, and the following days emails and signature sheets began to arrive at a speed of 150 people registered per day. Considering this good reception, the development group registered the domain www.salvemelsrenoir.org, and two days later the publication of a web page informing about the initiative and presenting a newsletter for the recollection of the personal details of all those interested started. This newsletter included a section for people to indicate the quantity they were willing to pay to manage the viability of the cinemas, and another section for people to include personal suggestions and commentaries. In less than three weeks, more than 2000 people were registered through the website, and the forum online turned into an authentic space for debate about the spectators’ needs and requirements, with very specific and original proposals.
XARXA CINEMA ASSOCIATION
Considering the real possibility of creating this community of users that would make possible the continuity of the cinemas, the procedures for the creation of Xarxa Cinema association as a non-profit organisation aimed at promoting the cinema started on Monday the 21st of May (two weeks after the campaign was launched). On Friday the 25th of May the first informative meeting was called at the same building of Renoir cinemas. This meeting was attended by 700 people eager to actively participate in the recovery of the cinemas.
The meeting was closed with the mandate of starting the attraction of members through the payment of a fee established in 10€ per year, which would give members the right to two cinema tickets. In order to capitalise the first stage adequately, a proposal was made to deposit in advance the annual (100 €) or biannual (50€) fees, which would give right to the condition of founding member. A reduction of the 50% to the students’, the unemployed’ and the pensioners’ fees was also proposed.
From the 24th of May, day when the association counted with a bank account to make the deposits, the attraction of members started at a speed of 100 members registered per day. At the beginning of June 50.000€ had been recollected, among them a high number of donations, some even for 1000€.
But the most interesting part of this process is the social network that has emerged. Thousands of proposals and suggestions have arrived at the association about what the cinema should offer to its users, not only regarding contents, but also regarding how to live the cinema, the incorporation of the digital access on-line and the big screen, and the actual needs and expectations of society (as the ones being explored through this project of added value). Our aim is to develop this experience through a case study, with an alive laboratory of social networks and the creation of new strategies for the cinema in theatres, as well as for the funding of the association (as tickets pre-sales at the box offices in the future as a funding measure for producers).
Thus, in the case of ‘Let’s save the Renoir!’, the audience is not potential any more. It is consolidated and united in an on-line community. This implies that cinema audiences and their demands have changed, and facing this change new screening strategies need to be established so that the offer can respond to the demands in a context of new opportunities.
The audience demands, with more and more intensity, independence to choose what to watch and when to watch it. Technology and its constant innovations have an immediate impact on the standards of demands (the last example of it would be the iPad). European and Iberoamerican cinema audiences are ageing, so attracting a younger audience constitutes a vital strategy for the immediate future. The internet generation, who understands entertainment in a different way and is asking for more capacity of election, is growing significantly. Two generations converge in this context: a ‘native digital’ generation, the average age of which does not go over thirty, and an older generation, the ‘digital immigrants’, who have had to adapt to the new situation. This convergence expands the potential market, which is divided into different specialised sectors. Online interaction and social networks spread the possibilities of the cinema. Now we are all part of this active audience.