The number of filmgoers in North Macedonia last year was 170,567, shows the data provided by the State Statistical Office (SSO). In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began and a decision was made to close the cinema theaters, it contributed to a decline in the annual number of visitors compared to the pre-pandemic period. In 2021, a minor increase was noticed in the number of people attending the cinemas.
But, despite the increase compared to the year 2020, these numbers are far less than the average numbers in the past 10 years. The average number of cinema visitors in the past decade annually was around 390,000 visitors. in the pre-pandemic year of 2019, a record attendance was evidenced, with a total of 539,218 filmgoers.
In 2020, the number of visitors dropped by 76% and this was due to the fact that the Government, on the 13th of March, decided to close all the cinemas, theaters, and other institutions with mass attendance. Part of the cinemas opened again later the same year, while others opened in 2021.
Apart from this, movie production slowed down, as well as the movie screenings and the first screenings of a number of titles were postponed.
According to the statistical data by the SSO, the largest numbers of film screenings and filmgoers were evidenced in the capital. In Skopje in 2021, a total of 636 films were shown with 10,492 screening,s while the total number of visitors was over 146,000. Skopje is followed by Bitola with 74 films, 210 screenings and over 22,700 visitors in the previous year.
A smaller number of films were screened in the other cities, like Ohrid, Struga, Shtip, Gevgelija, Kriva Palanka and Sveti Nikole.
Out of the total number of films screened in the country, 578 or over 78% were foreign films, while 63 films were domestic. 94 of the films were co-productions.
Streaming platforms – Enemies of the cinema
But, even after the cinemas were opened again, they remain unattractive for the majority of the people. Apart from the reasons caused by the pandemic, the disinterest in film screenings in the cinemas is also due to people preferring to watch movies on streaming platforms in the comfort of their homes. The number of subscribers to these platforms exploded in the past two years. Before the pandemic, the number of subscribers to Netflix was 158 million while this year, the number of subscribers in the first quarter was 221 million subscribers.
That the reason for the decline in the popularity of cinema screenings can be attributed to the increased number of streaming platforms users, but also to the COVID pandemic, is the opinion of the film theorist Bojan Stanišić at the Cinematheque of North Macedonia.
Stanišić said that even though the cinema theatеres were closed, the film industry didn’t stop with its productions during the pandemic. His opinion is that the problem is in the distribution of films.
“I think that the film industry didn’t stop either during the pandemic, especially when it comes to productions of independent films. We can see films shot even in Macedonia. The problem isn’t so much about shooting films as much as the distribution is. We can see that Netflix itself is also engaging in distribution. Even in Macedonia, it’s not a problem to shoot a film, rather it is its distribution, and the locations where these films will be seen. “When saying Macedonia, that doesn’t necessarily mean only Bitola and Skopje – the films have to be distributed to other cities as well, and there should be continuity in the screening of these films,” Stanišić said.
The social moment in cinema theaters cannot be replaced with watching movies at home
Menche Hadži-Kosta Milevska, an expert collaborator for film arts at the Cultural Center in Bitola, where a 3D cinemaa also exists, considers that the situation with the offer of films has started to return to normal toward the end of last year.
According to her, the last quarter of 2021 started to look like the pre-pandemic year of 2019, since there was a rich range of films that attracted the audience’s attention. This period proved that the habit of attending the cinema isn’t lost, said Hadzi-Kosta Milevska.
“The availability of these films on the internet poses a problem for the cinemas, but the streaming platforms which are a competition in some ways, actually often serve to promote new sequels, they build habits for regular watching films and are shaping the audiences’ tastes. The social moment at the movie theatres cannot be replaced by the streaming platforms,” considers Hadzi-Kosta Milevska of the Cultural Center in Bitola.
People that are well acquainted with the situation in the film industry state that even during this year, when the problem with COVID subdued, in reality, we shouldn’t expect to have the same number of filmgoers as during the pre-pandemic times.
“Now we are facing another challenge – the general rise of the consumer prices will lower the visitors’ personal budget, and on the other hand, the offer of cultural events will increase after the two-year pandemic period, and as a result, as expected, the cinema attendance will be decreased,” Hadzi-Kosta Milevska remarks.
How will the screening of films change in accordance with the times?
Faced with lower attendance, the cinemas will have to look for other ways to become more attractive among the competition. The summer period is a real opportunity to offer different cinema experiences to film fans.
“Especially during the summer period, it is very important to go out and the screenings to happen outside in the form of summer cinemas, and then the number of screenings and people in attendance would increase,” said filmologist Stanišić.
According to Hadzi-Kosta Milevska, the blockbusters will continue to be pillars of the annual program, while at the same time, a rise in the number of European films is expected, especially films from the nearby region.