ON THE BLOG: UK participants share their experience of CICAE training

Last September, a new edition of the CICAE’S ACAM (Art Cinema = Action+Management) training for professionals working in the art-house exhibition industry took place in its usual idyllic hub in the Venetian lagoon, the Island of San Servolo. An extraordinary edition of the training program though, adapted to the challenges of the Covid-19. The seminar brings together trainers, experts, and participants from all over the world in the context of the Venice Film Festival, with the support of the Creative Europe’s MEDIA sub-programme.

We talked with the three UK participants that attended ACAM 2020 to discuss their experience in the 7-day programme of lectures, workshops, case studies and screenings while fighting the “take me back to Venice” feeling. Our interviewees were:

  • James Calver, Project and Events Officer at the Independent Cinema Office. James joined the ICO in July 2017, after spending two years at the Kino-Teatr in St. Leonards-on-Sea asProgramming Manager. Since being at the ICO, he has worked in the training team, organising events such as the internationally-recognised Developing Your Film Festival, as well as implementing the organisations first online learning platform.
  • Patricia Tancredi is the Communications Coordinator for the Global Communications Team at MUBI covering PR for the MUBI brand and for our exclusive MUBI Releases. Her background is in film distribution, and she has a wide range of experience assisting across marketing, publicity, home entertainment and technical departments
  • Alice Maestrini, originally from Italy, is a London based cinema manager and festival producer. She currently runs community cinema Screen25 in South London and parallely to that works as a freelance film festival producer. She’s regular producer for the Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival and a regular collaborator of the London Korean Film Festival.

1) Why did you attend the course?

James Calver (JC) - Having organised professional development opportunities for the last few years, I had heard many people commend ACAM as one of the best courses available in Europe, so when I had the chance to go I was really excited. It also came at a point in time, midway through the COVID-19 pandemic, when I was questioning my place within the industry, and helped to reinforce the fact that this is where I want to be.

Patricia Tancredi (PT) - With MUBI ramping up its theatrical slate and with plans to expand its cinemagoing app MUBI GO in new territories, my team encouraged me to take part in ACAM training course to get a better understanding of the inner workings of the film exhibition sector.

Alice Maestrini (AM) - In a year of uncertainty like it was 2020, I decided to work on my cinema management skills and further my industry network. I had read about ACAM before and thought that was the perfect moment in my career to apply to the course. Just after the end of the training I started a new position at the community cinema I worked for the past three years. I'm now the co-director, taking the lead on operations, and what I learned during my time in Venice helped me tremendously in my new role.  Another reason for attending was of course the opportunity to be in Venice during the festival! 

2) What did you expect from it? How did the course meet your expectations?

JC – Going into the course, I was expecting a course that very much puts networking at the centre of everything that they do, which is what was delivered. Over the course of the week, I got to know everyone on the course, especially my working group, who I’m still in touch with. In that respect I’d say it definitely met my expectations and more. On the other hand, I did think we would have more opportunity to interact with the Venice Film Festival. However, it was clear the reason this was not possible was due to the pandemic, and I was still more than happy with the time I spent at the event, especially considering it was my first time at the festival.

PT – A few of my colleagues had participated in the program in years past and only had amazing things to say about their time in San Servolo. I went in with very high expectations, and I was not disappointed. In addition to the wonderful learning experience, I was able to meet people from all over the globe who are all incredibly passionate about what they do.

AM – The course absolutely exceeded my expectations. I went to Venice expecting days of lectures and visits to the Lido for the festival screenings. But it was much more than that! The whole week was about building connections with like-minded people, having the opportunity to talk with some top professionals in the field, developing your own project and sharing your experiences with people doing your same job in other countries - truly invaluable! You really become part of the CICAE family by the end. I also need to mention that the organisation during this challenging year was outstanding. Kudos to the team!

3) Tell us a little about the lecturers of the course: how many were there and what were they like?

JC – There were several lecturers that we were introduced to over the course of the week. Those that were able to make it to the course in person were very personable, and happy to introduce themselves to us individually before they’d even presented on the course, which immediately broke down that barrier between speaker and participant. This in turn led to an environment where discussion felt natural – you didn’t feel anxious commenting in the middle of a lecture as you already had the added confidence of knowing who you were speaking to.

PT – There were about 15 trainers and 20 lecturers. The trainers, aka “The Dream Team,” were there to oversee all the logistical and organisational needs of the training course. This group is made up of previous attendees – a lovely bunch wanting the next group to have as great of an experience as they did – led by the marvelous Boglárka Nogy and Katriina Miola. The lecturers came by throughout the week, either in person or virtually, and dedicated time to sharing their expertise with us. They covered the successes and failures they had encountered throughout their careers and passed on valuable advice and their plans on moving forward into the future of cinema exhibition.

AM – The quality of the lecturers is one of the aspects that makes ACAM unique. We had 4 to 6 lectures everyday - some were facilitated by the CICAE dream team while others were from external professionals from all over the world. Listening to their experience was priceless, plus everyone was available outside the lectures as well for one-to-one sessions - definitely something to take advantage of! 

4) What was the course group like: what countries did the participants come from and what kind of companies/institutions were they representing?

JC - Considering what was going on in the world during the course, we had a really interesting group of participants on the course, if slightly smaller than what I’ve heard was on the course before. The majority of people came from countries nearby/neighbouring Italy, or within Italy itself, which seemed to make sense when you consider the travel restrictions placed upon some countries. In terms of the types of institutions, it was mainly cinemas, however a few of the people I worked closely with were also working in distribution simultaneously with exhibition due to the nature of the size of the industry in their country – a dynamic which brought a lot to the conversation.

PT – The course was made up of a brilliant mix of people! Those who were able to attend in person were mainly from Europe, but the virtual element of this year’s program allowed people to tune in from Africa and Latin America as well. I was able to connect with people working in a range of roles from sales agents to cinema projectionists all eager to help cinemas bounce back in a (hopefully soon) post-pandemic world.

 

AM – Due to COVID-related travel restrictions, all participants in Venice last year were from European countries. We had a group working remotely from countries as far as Brazil and Nigeria. It was a real shame not to have a chance to meet them in real life, but of course was out of everyone's control. Most of the participants worked in cinemas but we had some distributors or people working in other independent and art-house cinema bodies. Such an array of experiences! 

5) How, in your opinion, were the themes covered in the course, and to which extent? Were things analysed in a deep way or were they kept at a more general level?

JC - The themes of the course were spread out, so each theme had a day dedicated to it. The day would start with a very general overview of the field, whether that be programming or finances, and then delve deeper into the topic with a combination of case studies and in certain places some very thorough analysis of the field from industry analysts.

PT – The sessions were normally kept at a general level, but they were accompanied by case studies that helped us dive deeper into each topic. Beyond the sessions, the ACAM team and lecturers were always available to discuss things further in case we had any additional questions or wanted to go more in depth.

AM – All themes around managing an art-house cinema were well covered during the course. The level of analysis depended on the topic and the lecturer, but you always had time to ask questions and further any aspect you might be interested in. The dialogue was always open to make sure we had the best (and most tailored) experience out of it. 

6) What was the content of the course?

JC - The content of the course revolves around a week-long workshop where you have to prepare a presentation on a project, either fictional or based on a real-life scenario. Therefore, each day focused on a different element that would help us to form said presentation. There were days focused on programming finances, organisation and audiences, as well as case studies which introduced ideas that could cover multiple fields. The case studies were helpful as they allowed the theory to be grounded with in practise.

PT – The training course was designed to impart a greater understanding of film exhibition as a whole with a 360° view of cinemas and how they run. This included courses focused on building and developing audiences, finance and crowdfunding, programming, marketing and branding, technical logistics and tips and tricks on how to run the business day-to-day.

AM – The content was very varied: from programming to marketing and social media, audience development and community engagement, representation and sustainability, operations, and technical aspects, and also governance and finance. I'd say all aspects of running a cinema were covered! 

7) What was the best offering of the course, for you?

JC – The best thing that the course provided for me was that sense of community when I needed it most. As the course is so heavily focused on networking, you really do feel like you’re a part of larger group that goes beyond those who you share your time with on the island. Everyone from the speakers to the participants is really supportive of everyone else, and that’s something that’s really stuck with me, even 4 months after the course.

PT – My favourite session was ‘Understanding Your Audience’ in particular the section led by Anthony Andrews from We Are Parable. I was already interested in their initiative – partnering with cinemas and distributors to organise preview screenings and events in order to generate great buzz around new releases – and I look forward to applying what I learned in that session to my role at MUBI.

AM – It's hard to pick just one aspect, the course was outstanding on some many levels. I think it would be hard to find a higher level of professionality and organisation than this! 

8) Who do you think the course is suitable for?

JC – The course is perfect for anyone who has been in the exhibition industry for a few years, and wants to provide themselves with a solid base to leap from to get to that next level. The contacts you make will be with you for a long time moving forward, and having that network to support you will really helping as you take the next steps.

PT – This course is for anyone who either already works in the exhibition sector and wants to fine tune their understanding of it or, like in my case, for those who work closely with cinemas and want to find ways to better collaborate with them.

AM – I think the course is suitable for all those professionals who want to further their skills in the industry or broaden their professional network. We all came from different paths and experiences, but we always supported and learnt from each other. 

9) What evaluation would you give it on a scale from 0 to 10 ?

JC – 10

PT – 10/10 would recommend it!

AM – I can't but give a 10 to the whole experience. Have I mentioned already that you get to live for one week on a private island in Venice surrounded by top class cinema professionals and with access to one of the best film festivals in the world? I believe it's an unmissable opportunity you need to experience.

Image: Patricia Tancredi participating in the 2020 ACAM (Art Cinema = Action+Management) course.