Making an Impact: Celluloid Junkie honors the 'Top 50 Women in Global Cinema'

Cinemas Features

Film Journal International is pleased to publish Celluloid Junkie’s 2018 list of the top women in global cinema, timely as ever in this era of women speaking out and the “50-50 by 2020” campaign. In-depth profiles of select honorees will appear in the July, November and December editions of FJI.

1. Yu Xin (Donna Yu)

China’s second-largest exhibitor, Dadi Cinemas continued its steady growth guided by General Manager Yu Xin (Donna Yu). Dadi is present in over 180 cities across China, and following strategic investments from Alibaba Pictures and Huayi Bros, it is also vertically integrated with the most significant media companies in China. In 2017, Dadi launched live events as part of the Movie+ strategy of expanding the offerings of cinemas, with over 100 events planned for this year. Meanwhile, 2018 will be the year that Dadi completes the transition to laser projection for all of its cinemas.

2. Elizabeth Frank

Led by Elizabeth Frank, AMC has recently expanded with the acquisition of Odeon & UCI Cinemas and Nordic Cinema Group in Europe, not to mention Carmike in the U.S. As Executive Vice President of Worldwide Programming and Chief Content Officer, Frank works from AMC’s corporate headquarters in Kansas City to oversee film-buying groups in Los Angeles, London and Stockholm. Frank is AMC’s primary representative to movie studios and distributors and has worked diligently to expand the company’s programming promotion capabilities. She has been instrumental in creating flexible pricing at AMC, which has resulted in opportunities to increase box-office and concession revenue.

3. Martine Odillard

President Martine Odillard led Les Cinémas Gaumont Pathé to an exceptional year in 2017. The largest exhibitor in Europe’s largest cinema territory signed an agreement with Dolby to roll out 10 Dolby Cinemas in France and the Netherlands and also pacted with IMAX to launch six of the large-format screens across the same territories. In addition, Gaumont Pathé and EclairGame Cinemas launched CinéSessions in late 2017 and announced in December that they would roll out 4DX to 40 European locations by 2020. Under Odillard’s leadership, Les Cinémas Gaumont Pathé “pairs the continuous modernization of its movie theatres with the never-ending pursuit of innovation.”

4. Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen

Under CEO Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen’s leadership, Novo Cinemas has opened a 12-screen cinema at IMG Worlds of Adventure, including one IMAX and three seven-star VIP screens. “Watching movies is very experiential now,” says Stanford-Kristiansen. “There is a focus on technology and luxury and audiences have become critics in their own right.”Novo has reached “peak cinema innovation”—its latest offerings include frozen popcorn and “the world’s largest human maze” record attempt, to tie in with the launch of the last Maze Runner film. Stanford-Kristiansen’s biggest test will be whether Novo can overcome geopolitical issues to enter the newly opened Saudi Arabian market.

5. Mariam El Bacha

Mariam El Bacha went from being Director of Operations at Malaysia’s MBO Cinemas to CEO of Cinepax in Pakistan. Cinepax currently has 11 cinemas across eight cities, but with an ambitious expansion plan of 150 screens by 2020, as Pakistan tries to reinvigorate its domestic film industry that has wilted in the shadow of its giant neighbor, India. The company is also launching innovations such as Platinum, Gold, Silver, 4DX, Dolby Atmos and CMAXX formats. Bacha is a frequent and inspiring speaker at international events, including CineAsia and Norway’s Film&Kino in the past year.

6. Corinne Thibaut & Lourdes “Lou” Grill

Led by several talented women around the globe, Coca-Cola is the cinema industry’s invaluable partner, supporting exhibition through a variety of initiatives that range from eSports sponsorship to research into the cinema habits of Millennials. As International Director, Cinema & Leisure, Corinne Thibaut has been a tireless champion of improved retail and customer experience, not least in her work with UNIC and CineEurope. Lourdes Grill has led the development of Coke’s global cinema channel strategy and value approach and is currently responsible for global cinema channel business development, as well as the Cinemark account.

7. Veronica Lindholm

As head of the northernmost corner of the global Wanda/AMC empire, Veronica Lindholm helped transition the Finnkino and Forum family of cinemas into the Odeon Group in the past year. Finland had a stellar cinema year in 2017, with Unknown Soldier breaking every record. This helped smooth over a ticket price increase to help pay for Finnkino's investments in new service and movie theatre concepts, including the refurbishment and reopening of Finland's oldest movie theatre, Maxim, in February. Lindholm is also on the board of Palta, the representative association for service sector businesses and organizations in Finland.

8. Laura Houlgatte

Laura Houlgatte’s appointment as CEO of European cinema trade body UNIC to replace Jan Runge was by all accounts a unanimous UNIC board decision. As UNIC’s EU Affairs Executive, she had proved herself adept at navigating the intricate politics of the European Commission in Brussels. Houlgatte has hit the ground running since taking over UNIC, juggling responsibilities such as the Women’s Cinema Leadership Scheme, CineEurope, the Global Cinema Federation, the UNIC Brussels conference and the UNIC Retail Group.

9. Anna Marsh

StudioCanal is arguably Europe’s leading studio to match Hollywood and distributes more than 50 films per year, with hits such as Paddington 2 and classics such as The Graduate and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Responsible for international distribution, Anna Marsh stepped into the large shoes of Rodolphe Buet a year ago, but has quickly made the role her own. She joined the International Sales department of Tele Images International in 2002 before becoming International Sales Manager at TF1 International. She was hired by StudioCanal in 2008 and has been rising rapidly ever since.

10. Bernadette McCabe

Bernadette McCabe took up the role of Senior VP of Exhibitor Relations and Business Strategy at MoviePass, which made headlines when it lowered its movie theatre subscription price to $9.99 per month and added subscribers at a staggering rate. McCabe is in charge of working directly with cinema operators throughout the U.S. in an effort to help MoviePass scale in size and find new revenue opportunities. She first entered the cinema industry in 2005 when she joined Screenvision Media, ultimately landing in the position of Senior VP of Business Strategy. There, she was responsible for overseeing Screenvision’s 170 exhibition partners, accounting for marketing and event cinema content on over 14,500 screens.

11. Dertje Meijer

Dertje Meijer has been quick to make her mark, as Pathé had one of its best-ever cinema years, with admissions up 7%. Meijer has been pushing the refurbishment of older multiplexes, with reopened ones like De Kuip in Rotterdam posting record numbers. Pathé is also acquiring three new cinemas and investing in new technologies.

12. Carol Welch

Carol Welch has overseen the refurbishment and reopening of seven Odeon Luxe cinemas and the launch of Oscar’s Bar, outpacing even AMC in their spending uptick. Welch has used her experience heading Costa’s coffee chain to improve Odeon’s retail offering, as well as rolling out a new corporate responsibility strategy and other initiatives.

13. Mei Lee Koh

Golden Screen Cinemas is the Malaysia’s favorite brand of cinemas, as proven by the record fourth consecutive Gold Award in the Entertainment category at the recent Putra Brand Awards. Mei Lee Koh cut the ribbon for the 10-screen multiplex in Melawati Mall in August and Johor’s biggest multiplex this past January, with GSC Paradigm JB boasting a total of 16 screens.

14. Jill Jones

Led by Jill Jones, Mister Smith Entertainment has been responsible for films such as The Girl on the Train and Spielberg’s B.F.G. Previously, Jones was EVP, International Marketing and Publicity, at Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment, where she oversaw the international releases of the Twilight series and such films as The Impossible and The Tree of Life.

15. Adriana Trautman, Susan Cotliar & Laura Abele

With six major Oscar wins for The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, 20th Century Fox’s marketing team deserves major recognition for the role they played. The trio of Adriana Trautman (VP of Marketing, Latin America), Susan Cotliar (VP of In-Theatre Marketing) and Laura Abele (Executive Director of International Marketing) are living proof that original films can be nurtured to become hits that even surprise the industry, as happened with Fox’s The Greatest Showman.

16. Sau Fong (Fiona) Chow

Orange Sky Golden Harvest made a deal with Dadi Cinemas to sell its struggling Mainland China cinema operation (76 multiplexes with 531 screens) for USD $492 million. Led by CEO Sau Fong Chow, it used the proceeds to buy out Village Roadshow from its Singapore Golden Village joint venture and now focuses on its cinema operations in Singapore, Hong Kong SAR and Taiwan.

17. Olga Zinyakova

The dynamic and growing Russian cinema KARO has pioneered the “new generation cinema” concept. President Olga Zinyakova and her team have implemented self-service ticketing, online F&B sales, U-choose cinema bars and “Black Hall” VIP auditoriums as well as operating two of Russia’s largest megaplexes. KARO will receive the “International Exhibitor of the Year Award” at CineEurope in June.

18. Michelle Walsh

Michelle Walsh has worked with Vox for over eight years and has a broad range of responsibilities as COO. Vox will be one of the first operators to open cinemas in Saudi Arabia and Walsh will no doubt play a leading role in spearheading this push into this last major untapped cinema territory.

19. Helen Moss

Helen Moss joined Paramount Pictures in 2008 as VP of International Theatrical Film Planning, based in London. In 2012 the international head office was relocated to L.A. and Moss played a key role in the successful transition. She assumed her current role as Senior VP of International Distribution in 2014.

20. Jane Hastings

Jane Hastings has been CEO of Event Cinemas’ parent company, Event Hospitality and Entertainment, for less than a year. She declared at the outset that “everything [is] under review” and new opportunities are key to growth. She was previously COO of Event Cinemas, as well as GM of SkyCity Cinemas in a career that spans over 20 years and work in Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan.

21. Julie Borchard-Young

Co-founded by Julie and Robert Borchard-Young in 2003, BY Experience is a global force in the distribution of live events and alternative content to cinemas. Over 250 unique events have been transmitted to over 3,000 cinemas and performing-arts centers in 75+ countries in the last 15 years.

22. Darryl Schaffer & Katy Loria

Screenvision Media EVP of Operations & Exhibitor Relations Darryl Schaffer and Chief Revenue Officer Katy Loria work with 150 cinema chains (including AMC, Marcus, Harkins and Malco) on their premium video strategy. Schaffer also leads Screenvision’s event cinema division, while Loria is focused on both national and local advertising sales.

23. Dr. Edna Epelbaum

As well as being third-generation CEO of her family’s cinema business, Cinevital, across five cities, Edna Epelbaum is also head of the Swiss French Film Festival, President of the Swiss Cinema Federation and a board member of UNIC.

24. Amy Wood

During Amy Wood’s tenure as Lionsgate’s Executive Vice President of International Distribution, the studio has earned over $10 billion at the global box office for franchises such as The Hunger Games, The Twilight Saga, John Wick and Now You See Me, as well as last year’s breakout hit Wonder and six-time Oscar winner La La Land.

25. Kymberli Frueh

For the past 13 years. Kymberli Frueh has worked for Fathom Events in content programming in one form or another, helping the company grow from a couple million dollars in revenue to one that earns $75 million per year. In her role as Vice President of Programming, Frueh heads up content acquisitions, managing content partnerships and program development.

26. Valerie Shortall

This September, Cinemark VP of International Marketing Valerie Shortall will celebrate her 20th anniversary with the circuit. She was first hired at Cinemark as Director of Marketing on the domestic side. During her ten years in that position, Shortall increased the visibility of Cinemark through promotions, events and partnerships.

27. Jannicke Haugen

Nordisk Film CEO Jannicke Haugen helped lead the reopening of the legendary 888-seat Colosseum cinema in Oslo after extensive refurbishment and installation of a dazzling dome display, Barco laser projection and AuroMax. She is currently overseeing expansions in Denmark and Sweden.

28. Kathy Conroy, Esther Baruh & Jackie Brenneman

The women at NATO help ensure that it is a trade body that punches way above its weight.VP and COO Kathy Conroy handles everything from finance to ops and coordinates the work of NATO’s boards, committees and task forces. Director of Government Relations Esther Baruh deals with public policy strategy and promotes participation in the advocacy process. Director of Industry Relations Jackie Brenneman’s responsibilities include movie theft, technology, the ratings appeals board, social media and education.

29. Ann Stadler

Coming from an advertising background, Ann Stadler joined Marcus Theatres in 2014 in the newly created role of VP and Chief Marketing Officer. She oversaw the launch of Marcus’ loyalty program and the integration of the Wehrenberg cinema circuit.

30. Christine Fenby

Driving the global presence of the Vista Group brand, Marketing Director Christine Fenby is the public face of Vista, Veezi, Movio, MovieTeam, Numero, Macca, Cinema Intelligence, Powster and Flicks across seven HQs and nine regional partners in 80+ countries, all from Auckland, New Zealand.

31. Vilma Benitez

Bardan International continues as one of the world’s leading cinema service providers under the stewardship of Vilma Benitez. As CEO for the past 11 years, she helped Bardan grow its market share throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

32. Nora Dashwood

After 20 years working her way up the corporate ladder at AMC Theatres, Nora Dashwood has spent the last 18 as the COO of not one, but two circuits; ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theatres. She has been instrumental in growing ArcLight and helping the 141-screen, 10-theatre chain maintain brand awareness as a premium cinema venue.

33. Sherry Yard

Sherry Yard arrived at iPic Entertainment after conquering the culinary world, including a “brief” 19-year stint at Wolfgang Puck’s famed Beverly Hills restaurant, Spago. Upon joining iPic in 2014 to oversee the circuit’s culinary program, she immediately made waves with menu items designed especially for eating in the dark. Yard was then promoted to COO, responsible for all theatre and restaurant operations.

34. Stephanie Mills

As General Manager of Marketing and Studio Relations of Hoyts, Stephanie Mills has been a driving force in redefining Australia’s second-largest circuit’s relationship with Hollywood studios. In addition, she launched an industry-first loyalty partnership with Quantas.

35. Bobbie Bagby Ford

Bobbie Bagby was born into B&B Theatres, the Kansas City-based cinema chain her great-grandfather founded in 1924 and where she is now Executive Vice President. But Bagby Ford is not resting on family laurels; she oversees the team that handles marketing for the U.S.’ seventh-largest theatre chain, including its loyalty program, special events and social media.

36. Fatima Djourmer

Fatima Djoumer is now in her third decade at the European art-house chain Europa Cinemas, which represents over 2,800 screens in 43 territories. There, she oversees international relations and events such as the Europa Cinema Awards, the Lux Prize simultaneous screening in 10 countries, and the upcoming five-day Sofia Lab, “Making the Most of Your Resources.”

37. Sandie Caffelle

As Sales and Marketing Manager at Jack Roe, Sandie Caffelle has transitioned from supplying 35mm film products to the core elements of the company’s 20th-century business: ticketing and point of sale, digital signage, mobile apps and a wide range of software solutions including data analytics.

38. Ingrid Jahra

Ingrid Jahra has been CEO of CinemaOne for just over a year, but has an extensive background in the cinema industry. She was previously CEO of Giant Screen Entertainment Ltd. and was instrumental in bringing one of the first IMAX screens to the Caribbean.

39. Karina Agadzhanova

Karina Agadzhanova recently celebrated her fifth year as CEO of Cinema Star, an exhibitor with 28 locations with 148 screens across Russia and Armenia. Cinema Star has pioneered innovations such as its “Play Lab” entertainment zones for kids, Moscow’s #1 “Oceanarium” and technologies such as Dolby Atmos and D-BOX.

40. Clara Cheo

As CEO of Golden Village, Clara Cheo has focused on delivering quality experiences for her customers. Golden Village became the first exhibitor in Singapore to open an all-digital multiplex (using Barco smart lasers) in Paya Lebar in October last year.

41. Sarah Lewthwaite

As Movio's MD and SVP for EMEA, Sarah Lewthwaite is a ubiquitous presence at trade shows and conferences, detailing how big data can help drive marketing efforts and thus increase revenue. Based in the company’s London offices, Lewthwaite works with leading exhibitors throughout the EMEA region to develop and refine their customer databases.

42. Karen Stacey

The CEO of DCM (U.K. and Ireland), Karen Stacey has driven the re-invigoration of cinema as a premium-advertising proposition. In the past year, DCM has launched a production department studio, podcast and fantasy film league, and opened regional headquarters in Manchester.

43. June Wong & Grace Wong

Intercontinental Group Holding’s MCL continues to improve the city’s movie experience, led by General Managers Grace and June Wong. 2017 saw the reopening of the Grand Kornhill Cinema and MCL Telford Cinema, both of which were extensively refurbished and now offer the House FX Theatre and MX4D Motion Theatre.    

44. Suvanee Chinchiewchan

As Chief Marketing Officer of Thailand’s second-largest cinema chain, SF Group, Suvanee Chinchiewchan must cater to the country’s varied movie tastes. She and her team work closely with distributors to help build audiences for all kinds of films in a country known for the high quality of cinema customer experiences.

45. Dee Vassili

Dee Vassili has spent 15 years supporting the massive growth of Vue International as Executive Director of Group HR. Today, the company has over8,500 employees in 10 countries. Vassili is currently focused on standardizing operating models across territories like the U.K., Poland and Italy.

46. Heather Blair

When Heather Blair was hired at MediaMation, she began exploring whether cinemas would be interested in converting existing auditoriums into MX4D theatres offering motion seats and environmental effects. Today, she is the Head of Cinema Sales, in charge of securing new exhibitors.

47. Claire Beswick

Claire Beswick is a veteran of the cinema industry, having started out as a staffer in a multiplex before going on to work in bookings for Odeon and Curzon Cinemas. Her new venture is Living Room Cinema, described as “a chain that revolutionizes the cinema-going experience.” The first location is due to open later this year.

48. Suzanna (Renhuldt) Holmqvist

Chief Marketing Officer Suzanne Holmqvist represents the fourth generation in family-owned Svenska Bio. She sits not only on the company’s board but also on the board of the Swedish Exhibitors Association. Having helped the expansion into neighboring Nordic countries, she was instrumental in the chain going cashless.

49. Tatiana Tolstaya

Despite only joining the cinema industry in 2013 with the reconstruction of the historic Kosmos Cinema in Tallinn, Tatiana Tolstaya has made her mark on the business as CEO of Cinamon. The circuit now has five cinemas across the three Baltic States, with three more in the pipeline.

50. Shelly Oleson & Beth Cretors

Popcorn pioneer C. Cretors & Co has not rested since its founding in 1885 and that legacy is being enhanced today by the latest generation, including Marketing Communications exec Beth Cretors and VP of Sales & Marketing Shelly Olesen, who dispenses popcorn and advice about it at tradeshows across the country and globe.

FJI thanks Patrick von Sychowski, J. Sperling Reich and Dana Moutis for their coordination of this special tribute.