European arthouse exhibitors have voiced growing concern about the challenges posed for their sector by the impending 35mm „switchoff“.

Speaking at last week’s European training programme on Venice’s San Servolo Island, CICAE president Detlef Rossmann [pictured] said: “The screens in the major markets in Europe will be digitised up to 80% by the end of 2012 and, at the beginning of 2013, it will be difficult to get 35mm prints in these countries. The independent distributors will cease 35mm print delivery. The fact is that the labs will close down – one has already done this in Germany- and there will also be problems in the small countries with the delivery of 35mm prints  because labs will no longer be able to work efficiently.”

In a video presentation, MEDIA Salles general secretary Elisabetta Brunella told the workshop participants that there had been an 80% increase in the number of European cinema screens digitised between the beginning and end of 2011

“The tipping point has now been reached as more than 50% of screens have been transferred to digital,“ she explained, adding that the latest data collated by MEDIA Salles shows that there has been a further increase of about 15% in the number of digitised screens in the first half of 2012 so that over 60% of Europe’s screens are now digital.

“The impact of this, on the distributors’ side, is that they are increasingly quitting the 35m prints and the switchoff - which means the end of distribution on 35mm - is definitely approaching,” Brunella pointed out. “This is certainly not without consequences, especially for the small cinemas and niche products. These factors certainly may affect the arthouse sector more severely than the more commercial types of cinemas.”

Christian Bräuer, president of Germany’s arthouse cinemas’ trade association AG Kino – Gilde, also voiced concerns about the future of the European arthouse sector in the light of these developments. He argued “against having standards imposed upon us” and suggested that “the American inspired business models cannot work for our cinemas, and certainly not for the small ones.”

“An exhibitor may have received funding for the first generation of projectors, but what happens then with the second generation?,” he asked.

This debate on the future prospects for the arthouse sector in the digital age is set to be continued during the forthcoming trade event, the Filmkunstmesse (Sept 17-21) in Leipzig, which is unique in Europe as being the only industry platform dedicated to arthouse cinema.

Bräuer will be joined by Irina Orssich of the European Commission, the European Audiovisual Observatory’s David Steele, producer Thomas Kufus, Fox’s Mykael Berg and Bavarian politician Michael Wanderwitz to discuss sustainable financing models for digital cinema and alternative forms of distribution.

Apart from the programme of seminars and workshops, this year’s edition of the Filmkunstmesse will feature a record 73 forthcoming arthouse releases being shown over the five days. Each screening is followed by the film’s distributor discussing the proposed marketing strategies and target audience with the attending exhibitors.