Europa Cinemas in Warsaw

How will digital technology change cinema? Who can benefit from the digital revolution? Has it really started? – these questions occupy the minds of the participants of the Europa Cinemas conference, taking place in Warsaw. Europa Cinemas is a network of over 750 cinemas in 43 countries.

An interesting outlook on the technological changes was presented Friday by special guests of the conference – two masters of Polish cinema and a highly acclaimed first-time director.


“I treat these technological changes lightly”, admitted Krzysztof Zanussi. “That’s not what’s really important. What is important is the type of films that we want to make. What is important is our view of the world, of the human fate, our reflections on passing. I don’t care if we talk about it on celluloid or in digital technology”.


“I’ve been using digital technology for years; I often forget what I’m shooting on, but I never forget what I’m shooting”, said Zanussi.

In his opinion Europe “suffers from a deficit of dreams”: “We don’t know how to tell a story, because we don’t know what we want. We only know how to say what we don’t like”.

Zanussi believes that the language of cinema is regressing. “Today we speak a simpler language than Godard or Fellini. The language of cinema stopped developing about 40-50 years ago.”

The audience has also changed. “Cinema has become the domain of kids; cinema theatres have been overtaken by teenagers”, said the director. But Zanussi believes that an audience seeking ambitious tones in cinema is still out there, but has lost its way a little. “We just have to find it”, he urged.

Organizations such as Europa Cinemas can help in this. “You are like a boutique that carries clothes of better quality than a huge supermarket. The feel of a small cinema, a cinema boutique of sorts, is a chance to find audiences with better tastes”, said Zanussi.

Andrzej Wajda emphasized that cinema was a popular medium from its earliest days; it spoke to everyone, including the uneducated audiences, because it spoke images. “Our cinema was able to reach the world thanks to its images”, stressed Wajda. He also pointed out that in communist times it was easier to use images than words, as the written word was subject to political censorship.

In Wajda’s opinion, a key factor is the feeling of community with audiences. “You can’t watch films alone. I never watch films at home”, he said. “I need to know the reaction of the audience, confront my own feelings with theirs.”

He told an anecdote about Charlie Chaplin, who would test particular scenes of his films during cinema screenings. He would always ask if the children laughed. If they had, the scene would ultimately make it into the picture.

Wajda believes that in today’s world there isn’t really room for social cinema anymore. It requires a will to see the truth and a common understanding of the story. Meanwhile audiences have disintegrated; today people look to the cinema mainly for entertainment.

The director of Man of Marble said that he uses digital technology mainly in his school for young directors, because it’s cheap and convenient. He also sees an important role of digital technology in renovating classic films, thus enabling new audiences to see them. (Recently a digitally restored print of Ashes and Diamonds premiered in Poland, as part of the KinoRP project, focusing on renovating key works of Polish cinema).

The greatest pessimist of the three guests was the youngest among them – Borys Lankosz, the creator of Reverse and winner of this year’s Polish Film Festival in Gdynia.

“It seems to me that cinema reached its peak in the 1960s and 70s. For young people today, raised in a different world, there is something unnatural about sitting still for two hours in a dark room”, said Lankosz. He believes that cinema will share the fate of opera. “We have to accept the fact that cinema is dying”, he said.

“You are not the first to speak of the death of cinema”, smiled Jean-Michel Frodon, the French film critic. “But cinema is not dying, it is merely changing.”

Frodon believes that the transition to digital screening is inevitable. “There is no doubt about whether it should be done or not. There is simply the discussion about the technical aspects.”

He stated that digital technology is changing the way cinema functions, by enabling films to live outside the screening auditorium. This creates the possibility of reaching new audiences.

On Friday, film producers and distributors discussed whether we are ready for a digital revolution and who will be paying for it.

The leader in digital film distribution is the United States. The major film studios are already making digital prints for most of their productions. Relatively fewer European works are distributed digitally. Why? Few cinema auditoriums are adapted for digital screening. But these numbers continue to grow. An average of 15% of cinemas in Europe are ready for digital screenings, with the highest numbers in the United Kingdom and Norway.

The panel participants emphasized that the world today is in a transitional period; films today must function both in analogue and digital format, which means greater costs for producers and distributors. They hope for public financial support, at least in this transitional period.

The key issue for producers is for cinemas to have the facilities for digital screening – only then will it make sense to provide digital prints.

“Digitization can be the last chance for saving art house cinema and being able to screen it in small cinemas”, said the Italian producer Angelo Barbagallo.

But digitization can also be dangerous for small cinemas; equipping a cinema with digital technology is expensive and cinemas that will not be able to afford it may not survive if films are only available in digital format.

The conference participants also debated the various ways of financing digitization and making use of the possibilities created by the Internet to attract new audiences to cinemas.

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Translated by Karolina Kołtun