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Re-injecting the thrill into cinema

The European Film Awards hosted in Malta last weekend provided the perfect platform to show off the splendour of cinema and entrench the big picture as one of the most important means of cultural entertainment.

The ceremony celebrated the most critically-acclaimed European films of the year, most of which, sadly, hardly make it to the big screen in Malta as audiences clamour for big budget Hollywood films.

It is ironic that five days after cinema icons like Helen Mirren and Wim Wenders left the island, official statistics released showed cinema attendances last year dropped by 10 per cent compared with the previous year, though a profit was still registered.

Cinemas were most popular in December and July, showing that many still resort to the cinema as a festive treat or to escape from the heat.

Twenty years after Eden Century rescued cinema in Malta from the doldrums by investing heavily in new auditoriums, and KRS Distributors started securing the newest releases, it is high time for all operators to take a good inward look to try to stem the decline.

With the onset of online film downloads and video on demand, many are now resorting to watching films from the comfort of their sitting rooms on affordable high-definition television sets. Many households have now become the closest possible thing to the cinema experience.

In reality, no advancement in technology will ever equal the big screen experience. Yet, a good number of cinemas in Malta are crying out for much-needed refurbishment and it is becoming clear that cost-cutting measures are impinging on quality.

It is not acceptable to walk into an auditorium and be welcomed by a stench of decay. It is not acceptable either to have inferior sound quality from five-star equipment.

Discipline inside the auditoriums leaves much to be desired. Too many patrons persist in chatting loudly to the frustration of other film-goers. We have seen this all too often, without any intervention from the dwindling ushers. It is one of the reasons why a growing number seek to watch films from the comfort of their homes.

It is high time that cinema management does away with intermissions, an antiquated system which only serves as an untimely distraction to the real cinema lover. Intermissions in early films had a practical purpose – they were needed to facilitate the changing of reels but they have been phased out all over the world.

Intermissions are a source of revenue for the bars but this break should be shifted between the trailers and the main picture if not eliminated altogether.

Only recently, patrons watching the main evening feature film Skyfall at Eden Century’s flagship Cinema 16 were unceremoniously treated to loud radio sound five minutes into the film’s restart after an intermission during one of the thriller’s highlights.

Management should also look at the cost of food and drinks at the theatre, which could well be impacting families’ decisions to watch a film at the cinema in hard economic times.

Cinemas need to be supported in every shape and form. But operators must also do their bit to lure people out of their cosy homes. With the exception of the 1980s, cinemas in Malta survived the rise of television, VHS, DVDs and even Blu Ray.

In 2013, they cannot afford to witness a second downfall because of declining standards.

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