FNE Visegrad 2021: Q&A with Daniel Ratuszniak, Director of New Horizons Cinema in Wrocław


    WARSAW: Daniel Ratuszniak, Director of the New Horizons Cinema in Wrocław, the leading Polish art house cinema, talks to FNE about the state of Polish cinemas as they are recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Daniel Ratuszniak Director of New Horizons Cinema, copyright: Agencja GazetaFNE:  What is the current condition of Polish cinemas, and what is the prevalent situation of the Polish cinema market?

    Daniel Ratuszniak: “We've come back to the state from two years ago, so I don’t think that it is a dramatic state at this point. We did experience dire circumstances in 2020, but cinemas are recovering somehow, and I think that unless there is a massive disruption, like some big fourth wave, the role of cinemas and attendance should not drop dramatically. The current difficulty is that we are now at such an uncertain stage. Even a few days ago, not more, I still did not know what films will be coming to us in October and, even in cases where I did know, I knew that these titles would change. Previously, we had such a stable situation, and we knew everything well in advance - even two months prior to release. A good litmus test for our market could be the films by Patryk Vega, which had September premieres both in 2020 and 2021. The turnout here has dropped significantly compared to 2019. But there are other films that are slowly catching up and matching these results. For example, with regards to our Polish films, we recently released Jakub Michalczuk's The In-laws / Teściowie, which registered quite a decent opening result. James Bond will also be such a litmus test; it’s a film that should make cinemas come to life, for sure. So, on 1 October, we will have the premiere of the newest Bond, which has been postponed ... maybe six times? October will bring us some really good films with great potential: we have the latest Bond; there is the latest film by Wojtek Smarzowski, The Wedding / Wesele; followed by Dune and the Venom sequel, so the repertoire is really very strong.”

    FNE: How did pandemic drops in attendance influence the smaller studio and arthouse cinemas?

    Daniel Ratuszniak: “Currently, this situation is being evaluated and many distributors, seeing that there may be a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and that it is possible that cinemas will be closed, will determine whether certain films will be worth releasing into cinemas – whether studio cinemas or multiplexes - at all, and whether it will pay off for them. This is the present landscape. I know that big chain cinemas were initially hit the hardest by decreases in attendance, also in 2020. Studio cinemas used this situation in a completely different way; we can say that they were more effective, they were more creative, so these drops in attendance looked completely different in studio cinemas than in multiplex chains (special events, reviews, small festivals).”

    FNE: What was the most important take-away from last year?

    Daniel Ratuszniak: “It seems to me that we must have learned the lessons of 2020. It was terribly chaotic, let me put it this way: filmmakers must always act in consultation with the distributors. In 2020, having a nine-screen cinema, knowing that there will be few premieres, I did not decide to open the cinema as soon as possible. I knew that the screening rooms would not fill up and this was definitely the philosophy behind multiplex cinemas. But this year, together with the distributors, we were prepared for the opening of cinemas. The distributors had film premieres up their sleeves that would bring many people to cinemas. Multiplex cinemas had to decide whether they would take advantage of the possibility to open or stay closed, based on their individual assessment. However, Helios very quickly decided to open its cinemas. Multikino, and Cinema City delayed their reopening. But I can say this: after the experience of 2020, we drew conclusions from it, and we tried our best to prepare for the moment when cinemas could restart.”

    FNE: How did the pandemic change the current exhibition market in Poland?

    Daniel Ratuszniak: “I think that the pandemic will definitely have an impact on the cinema and film situation. It will not go back to how it was before. I think it will be a question of hybridisation. In the past, large film studios enforced the so-called distribution windows. The cinema usually had about 90 days to exploit a given film title. We know that we will definitely not go back to that. Producers will shorten these dialogue boxes and I think that releases will end after around 45 or 30 days and that the next field of exploitation will be streaming platforms or VOD.”

    FNE: Does this mean we will have more films in Polish cinemas?

    Daniel Ratuszniak: “Certainly yes - for a while. There was a pandemic, but films were still made. There are a lot of them. The issue is also that VOD platforms have gained a lot of influence and power during the pandemic. However, film producers like Disney also began to invest in their own VOD platforms, so they will also want to shorten this dialogue box.”

    FNE: Do you think new, hybrid forms of distribution are more popular currently because of the pandemic?

    Daniel Ratuszniak: “It seems to me that big distributors have already learned their lesson. For example, Disney has announced that they will be introducing certain films simultaneously in cinemas and through its Disney + platform. A few days ago, they announced that all premieres planned for this year will be in cinema theatres first. Warner Bros. also invested in their platform; they tried to introduce some titles on the western markets at the same time as on their platform and in cinemas. Nevertheless, cinema attendance is still the most significant and most profitable. Of course, if we are talking about smaller films, we often observe a different strategy when it comes to distribution. Many of these smaller distributors, having these smaller films in their portfolio, plan a more event-based distribution of their films, that is, special screenings, placing them in certain reviews and at festivals.”

    FNE: What is the plan for the New Horizons Cinema in the last quarter of 2021?

    Daniel Ratuszniak: “We are trying to plan a network of events. We will adapt to the current situation, although it is difficult, because government decisions are often sudden and surprising. However, I believe that the restrictions that may be introduced will reward the people who are vaccinated. I think that the cinemas will not be completely closed. But you can also see the expectations and reactions of viewers to our events, that people pay attention to safety in the cinema and we always try to take care of it. Some people do not like it a bit, even very much, but we have to take care of ourselves. We can see that, despite this pandemic, people have found themselves in the current situation and want to watch films in theatres. Even if we eventually have to close, I believe it will be for a very short time. As part of our association, we also have a so-called “plan B”. If there is no possibility to stay open, then our VOD platform has a very rich catalogue, and it is filtered and nicely formatted when it comes to topics and cycles. So, there will definitely be something to choose to watch at home, if the cinemas are closed.”