Exhibitors abandon films not in English?

I thought about going to see a film in Leeds later this week. I generally prefer British independents or subtitled films but I like to have a choice. When I looked through the cinema listings for Leeds I discovered that every single film on offer was in English – and virtually every one was a mainstream American or British film. Leeds is a major city. It has suffered from the lack of a specialised cinema such as those that once formed part of the BFI’s Regional Film Theatre network. The council still own the 1914 Hyde Park Cinema which often has excellent programmes (as attested by many of Keith’s posts) but with only a single screen it is sometimes dominated, as in this week, by a film like Rush. The Vue in the city centre usually has something different on offer such as a British independent or a Hindi film, but not this week.

Leeds has been promised an art cinema/specialised cinema for some time and at one point it looked as though a City Screen might open but it didn’t. Then earlier this year Everyman opened a three screen cinema in the new Trinity shopping centre. As expected, it is an expensive cinema (i.e. for the region at £11) but we did expect it to show some decent specialised films. The offer today is Diana, Rush, Insidious 2 and About Time. What a joke! The original Everyman in Hampstead was where I first saw most of the 1960s canon of art cinema. I weep when I think of what the name means now – stuffing your face with pizza watching Hollywood.

So with a population of 800,000 and something like 43 or more cinema seats, Leeds can’t offer a film in any other language than English tonight. The nearest sanity is in Bradford (The Great Beauty, Wadjda at the National Media Museum and several Hindi titles at Cineworld or the Odeon) or Sheffield for the Showroom. I read a comment somewhere in the last few weeks suggesting that subtitles are ‘difficult’ with the implication that cinemas find it hard to programme foreign language films. With this kind of attitude I seriously fear for the diversity of cinema in the UK.  No doubt we will return to this topic.

5 thoughts on “Exhibitors abandon films not in English?

  1. Roy is so right. I have actually been reduced to watching a DVD one evening this week rather than going to the Cinema. There is a problem with what audiences prefer which runs against foreign language films. But I do think distributors in particular need shaking up. Roy writes elsewhere about The Great Beauty, with stunning visual and aural inputs. Yet it seems to be circulating only in a 2K DCP – it certainly deserves 4K.
    Moreover, there is an increasing tendency to programme some non-mainstream films in for a single screening. The logic seems to be that the potential audience is about that size. However, invariably this means some people won’t be able to make this.
    Distribution and exhibition need to support the audience for different sorts of films – if you keep missing films it is likely to dent the habit.

  2. Hi Roy & Keith. I could write pages on this. It has been a complaint for years and it is getting worse. Major films now play only one day, as you say Keith. City Screen played Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia in their one-off Discover Tuesdays slot. Did he really need discovering by this point? Also City Screen programme Everyman and Hyde Park Picture House. And the programme is identical to City Screen York. So Leeds did get a City Screen in reality. As far as I can see a lot of the former RFTs are showing Rush and Diana and being subsidised to do so.

    There is a fear of working with subtitled films and promoting them. More marketing now goes into promoting opera and the National Theatre in cinemas than subtitled films and I can’t see it getting better. Trying to get cinemas to programme such films is getting harder, even with 3/4/5 screens. Just getting 4 slots to get a film before an audience is a problem.

    While there are too many films out there, there are also too many cinemas playing the same film and not providing audience choice. I am not against the idea of providing choice of cinema to see a film. Seeing a film in, say, Pictureville, is a much better experience than Vue 12, even if it is the same movie. But surely there is an issue of promoting a broader diet. And NMeM is doing better than many.

    Increasingly, films only get 1 or 2 screenings at a festival in the UK, then the best chance to see it is by DVD or online. The UK misses out on many of the best films that are produced internationally, and we receive a diet of mainstream cinema, where Rush is seen as a great movie.

    Before I continue the rant too far, what can be done? Cinemas need to have confidence in the product, because if they don’t why should the audience? They need to market the difficult films not the easy ones. The BFI needs to look carefully at what it is funding and is it creating a audience that does not care about the art of film, just the thrill. The new hub network needs to take this issue seriously. And those of us who care about international cinema need to be more militant in promoting its merits. Thank god for a site like this that still takes global film seriously.

    Keep up the good work


    1. Hi Bill, good to hear from you. You point towards one issue that I have plans to write about, namely the spread of ‘live theatre/opera’ etc. replacing specialised film slots in programmes. But you also point to an area I need to research more, i.e. the concept of BFI ‘subsidising’ the exhibition of mainstream English language films.

      The domination of film bookings for specialised cinemas by City Screen and Artificial Eye/Curzon is another issue. The prospect of a Leeds City Screen was, if I remember correctly, for an original Tony Jones style City Screen, not the current corporate chain that has now been bought by Cineworld.

      I’m now seriously worried by the lack of language teaching for younger people and the prospect of the current audience for subtitled films not being replaced as we die out! In the meantime we’ll keep arguing for screenings and promoting the best of global film. Thanks for your support.

  3. Bill and Roy are both right. And areas like the distribution subsidies need checking out.
    But I also think there is a larger problem. Commercilaly and critically many people treat film in its different guises as the same.
    I have pointed out particular screenings and often had the response, ‘I have seen it’ or ‘I can see it on DVD’?
    The history of the arrival of sound, or for example, of the CD replacing vinyl, has some object lessons.
    Sorry for a plug, but I am running in the BFI Member Governor Election – that is one institution where there needs to be some recognition of these problems.

  4. These comments follow on from Roy being dissapointed with the offerings at the Leeds Everyman. He was more fortunate than he realised. I went to see The Retrieval at this new cinema. [The film is well worth seeing]. The venue is not exactly well set out. It took me time to find the Festival desk, up in a corrdior at the top. Even longer to find the toilet, at the end of the corridor with a confusing set of doors.
    Then the auditorium. The screen, [only slightly bigger than Cubby Broccoli at Bradford) is lit by a bright garish spot. It looks like there is not any adjustable masking. But the killer is the seating. All the seats are doubles. When i was a callow youth these were a prize option, though I suspect our girlfriends quite often would have rather watched the movie. But now? I wonder about sitting next to a complete stranger in these? And there is either no left or no right arm rest. Then there are the tables, for drinks and food. They seem too high. The projection light reflected on people’s bottles and glasses. And the seats are like sofas. After only a 92 minute film I had a backache, no support.
    Strictly speaking this is not a cinema but a video parlour.
    Oh yes, the seats are low-slung so the sightlines can be obscured by people sitting in front.

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