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An icon of art house cinema in Melbourne, the Kino Dendy, is celebrating its 20th anniversary starting on June 28 with a party for 220 filmbiz guests, followed by the weekend celebration rate of $5 tickets to all films at the 4-screen complex. The celebrations will include special screenings, including Clubland for Kino Dendy club members in the presence of the film’s star, Brenda Blethyn. Andrew L. Urban reports.

“The Kino Dendy has survived because art house cinema audiences are fairly solid,” says Frank Cox, co-founder of the cinema, “although the demographics have changed. We’ve lost the under 30s but the older audiences keep going.” He means coming, of course … He blames the loss of younger crowds on iPods and the internet and a myriad other options. He says that “10 or 20 years ago, if you screened a film from Eastern Europe, you’d do very good business. Not any more; they want more than small art house offerings. The university crowd would come to see a new French director’s film, but that market has dropped by a third. Only a special event will bring them out.”

The key to the survival of the Kino Dendy has been its programming, says Cox, who started in the 80s and soon found a market for his art house films. He began with the German language classic, Mephisto, by Istvan Szabo and a couple of other Gemrn language films. That – and his Greek origins – gave him the idea for the Kino name. Kinesis in Greek means movement, and in German it means cinema. “And it’s short…”

The cinema, with three major refurbishments over its 20 year history, is not a major contributor of profits to Cox’s main business as a distributor; his company, New Vision, launched Hopscotch, a new distribution operation four years ago, and that company plus Dendy’s distribution arm help feed the Kino Dendy with arthouse titles. “But over 50% of our films come from other distributors,” he says. Still, it means there is always guarantee of product.

"pure art house"

Programming of the films is the key, says Cox, and day to day programming is largely the responsibility of Dendy’s Mark Sarfaty, who programs all of Dendy’s cinemas. The Kino Dendy faces tough competition in Melbourne, which boasts more art house screens in operation than London, with between 45 – 60 screens offering art house movies, including those that are called ‘crossover’ – cinemas which also show more mainstream movies alongside art house films.

The Kino Dendy prides itself on being pure art house. No Harry Potters, no Lord of the Rings, no Four Weddings and a Funeral and certainly no big budget action films …. Instead, it’s been Jesus of Montreal, My Beautiful Laundrette … “And we do sometimes go out on a limb,” adds Cox, “with films like Shortbus … it’s good for variety and to keep our edge. And Tales from Earth Sea, which is now attracting three or four times more people than any other film playing here,” he adds.

In fact, Tales from Earth Sea is a good example of the Kino Dendy strategy, being exclusive to the cinema, says Mark Sarfaty. “The cinema is programmed for its own identity,” he says, “not as part of the overall programming. And we’re constantly looking for profile events, such as Tales from Earth Sea, or an anime season, or the Asia Pacific Film Festival …”

When some years ago there was a flight of entertainment out of Melbourne’s CBD to the suburbs, the Kino remained a beacon at the top end of Collins St. But its success generated competition. “So we aim to be unique in programming, marketing and ambiance,” says Sarfaty. “The latest refurbishment was designed to emphasise that, and we also engage with the local bars and restaurants.”

Sarfaty says that while the over 55 year olds are the single biggest cinema market, the programming for the Kino Dendy encourages younger audiences, “especially with films like Chasing Amy, Secretary and Lost In Translation.”

Originally from Melbourne, the Sydney based Sarfaty manages to visit his home town – and the Kino – frequently. “I really enjoy programming it; and I think it’s a very beautiful cinema.”

Likewise for Cox, who sees the Kino Dendy almost like a glorious hobby. “The Kino is a personal treasure for me,” he says.

Published June 14, 2007

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Kino Dendy is a high quality film venue, boasting four state of the art cinemas, two of which are widely considered the best quality design and view lines in art house cinema, given the limited size of cinemas available at other locations. Kino Dendy has a fully licensed bar and patrons are able to enjoy a wine, beer or champagne while watching a movie. CBD parking, directly underneath the cinema is free for 2 hours then just $2 per hour thereafter.

Frank Cox is the co-founder and co-owner of Melbourne’s Kino Dendy Cinemas, which he established with Fred O’Brien in 1987. He joined forces with Dendy (then owned and operated by Lyn McCarthy and Graeme Tubbenhauer, who later sold the business to Becker Entertainment.) Cox became involved in the local film industry by touring rock music and feature films around Australia from 1970. His exhibition business became so successful that in 1976 he moved into film distribution. His first art-house acquisition was Mephisto, by Istvan Szabo – an Academy Award and Palme d’Or winner.

Subsequently, over 30 years of overseas travel has enabled Cox to form an extensive international network with major film producers and sales agents, gaining him a reputation as one of the most prominent independent film distributors in the Southern hemisphere.

Mark Sarfaty is Head of Dendy Cinemas and an executive with the publicly listed entertainment company, Becker Group Limited. He is the immediate past President of the Independent Cinemas Association of Australia; inaugural Co-Chair of the cinemas peak body, the Australian Cinema Exhibitors Coalition and Co-President of The Sydney Film Festival.

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