Berlin party offers hope amid ongoing pandemic struggles in Germany
Organizers of the upcoming Berlinale continue to plan a physical festival under strict security measures, but with the EFM already moving online due to rising COVID-19 cases, this year is shaping up to be another gathering. grim, not only for the discouraged German film sector, but also for Berlin companies which are preparing for more loss of income.
Theater exhibitors and local distributors welcomed the move, but the condensed event and continued fear of Omicron are expected to keep attendance low.
“It’s such an important signal for the entire cultural and film industry,” says Christian Bräuer, president of the independent cinema association AG Kino – Gilde and managing director of the Berlin-based Yorck-Kino group. “Of course, as social places, we are aware of our responsibility. Especially in the pandemic, however, the special value of cultural life and experience is evident.
While life in the city has improved significantly since last year, when it had practically disappeared during confinement, the atmosphere remains gloomy. People visiting local establishments, whether dining or going to the cinema, must present proof of COVID vaccination or recovery, a requirement known locally as the 2G rule: geimpft or genesen, German for “vaccinated” or ” cured”. Among local businesses, new security measures are often blamed for driving away customers and hurting the bottom line.
Indeed, across Germany, the introduction of the 2G rule along with the stricter 2G Plus, which requires an additional negative test, has been “catastrophic” for restaurants and hotels, according to the German Hotel Association. and restaurants. In a recent survey of 4,800 establishments, the association found that the restrictions have led to revenue losses of more than 50%, and much higher in areas where 2G Plus is mandatory. “Many companies can no longer work profitably,” says association president Guido Zöllick.
Peter Adrian, Chief Assn. from the German Chambers of Commerce and Industry, also claims that smaller retail and catering businesses, in particular, not only see fewer customers due to 2G, but also experience problems in implementing the rules.
Other sectors held up less well. Berlin’s beloved nightclubs finally reopened in September, only to close again in December after local authorities banned dancing due to rising coronavirus cases.
Theater operators in German states that introduced 2G Plus warrants in November also reported dramatic declines in ticket sales. The stricter rules, in almost half of the country, have drastically reduced the number of hearings due to the lack of test stations in many regions. The Land of Saxony went even further by closing cinemas completely.
The situation has also become particularly difficult for independent distributors, including Berlin-based Neue Visionen. The tighter regulations have had a severe impact on his recent releases of Serbian director Srdjan Dragojevic’s “Heavens Above” and French director Eric Besnard’s “Delicious.” The distribution’s recent acquisitions, including “Paris 13e” by Jacques Audiard and “Entre deux mondes” by Emmanuel Carrère, are on hold.
Neue Visionen Managing Director Torsten Frehse points out that in 2016 Neue Visionen had great success with Besnard’s “A Sense of Wonder”, which sold 700,000 tickets in Germany, more than double that in France. . “Delicious”, however, has only registered 55,000 admissions in Germany since its release in November.
“It’s bitter,” says Frehse. “We went on tour with Eric. We have planned everything well. It is an extremely strong film. And then everything was taken away.
“It’s not just the amount of money or the economic impact. It’s also all the hard work and time invested by the filmmakers. These films could have been reasonably released. There would have been fewer people in the cinemas, but at least some would have come – if the political leaders had done their job.
Frehse echoes the sentiment expressed by cinema association HDF Kino, which has called for uniform regulations across Germany and strongly criticized the unequal treatment of the exhibition sector compared to gastronomy and cinema. hotel industry in a number of states.
Cinemas have shown a great sense of responsibility in providing safe venues, the organization says. “It is incomprehensible that in some states cinemas and cultural institutions in particular are only allowed to open under very strict conditions or are completely closed, while restaurants and hotels are excluded from the lockdowns,” says the director of HDF Kino, Christine Berg, who describes the 2G Plus
rule like “a backdoor lock”.
Movie theaters nonetheless benefited from generous state and federal pandemic assistance that allowed businesses to cover fixed costs and payroll. For film distributors, however, such support does not cover the high P&A costs of film releases.
“With distributors, fixed costs are a minor component,” says Frehse. “Our work is a risky business: we have licenses and upfront costs for films. We have to pay huge sums for minimum guarantees and there is no substitute for that.
Despite a revenue decline of more than 70% last year, Neue Visionen is stable thanks to strong financial reserves built up over the past decade, Frehse said.
However, the situation could hit other distributors harder. “The crisis began for many of our colleagues with the reopening of cinemas, because that is where the losses are realized.”
While industry watchers have warned that the situation could lead to an increase in bankruptcies in the sector, this has yet to materialize.
Berlin-based insolvency lawyer and debt consultant Jan Heckmann notes that the number of insolvencies in the film industry and in the restaurant sector has actually decreased during the pandemic due to several factors: government assistance along with a one-year suspension of a rule requiring financially troubled businesses to file for bankruptcy likely kept many businesses and restaurants in business.
“It remains to be seen whether this development will continue in the future or whether a wave of corporate bankruptcy filings will follow in 2022,” adds Heckmann.
Indeed, HDF Kino warns that if the government does not continue to provide aid, that is exactly what will happen.
“We continue to meet the challenges of the pandemic relentlessly, but as of this writing, theater supplies have finally been exhausted,” says Berg. Additional funding is vital for cinemas this year due to new restrictions, she adds. Otherwise, a “wave of bankruptcies and the loss of diversity in cinema and culture in Germany” could become a reality.
Although theaters nationwide were closed for six months in 2021, the sector received a much-needed boost as the latest James Bond and Spider-Man pictures arrived in the fall. Admissions were up 18% year-on-year to 40.4 million, reports HDF Kino. However, compared to the pre-pandemic figures of 2019, this still represents a drop of 63%.
As limited as the Berlin Film Festival is, it’s sure to bring more moviegoers back to theaters, and for the industry, that’s what it’s all about. Indeed, the festival’s Berlinale Goes Kiez, popular programs that screen selected films from the festival in arthouse cinemas in the neighborhood, will run from February 12-18.
“For us, it’s very important that the Berlinale takes place, especially as a political signal, that it will continue – that’s really important,” says Frehse.