Indie distribs face daunting challenges

Mergers, dominance of H'wood pix taking toll

Independent distributors around the world are chronic complainers, but their gripes have taken on added urgency recently. The superstrong greenback, ever-escalating minimum guarantees sought by sales agents, the market dominance of the U.S. majors, ballooning P&A costs and sluggish local economies have combined to make life tougher for many indies.

Nonetheless, only a handful of nonaligned distribs have gone to the wall in the past year and a Variety straw poll indicates that most indies are planning to attend the London Screenings and/or Mifed.

Out in the field, the plight of indies in their struggle with the majors is summarized in one word by Wong Heang Fine, president-CEO of Singapore exhib-distrib Cathay Organization: “bad.”

“Local audiences’ first choice is still big-budget Hollywood productions with well-known casts,” says Wong, whose company is sending reps to London Screenings and Mifed in search of actioners and comedies, plus arthouse films if they’re reasonably priced.

In Europe’s big territories, the distribution sector has seen the disappearance of U.K.’s Downtown Pictures. Also in the U.K., Helkon acquired Redbus Film. Tough times are evident even for German companies: Distrib Advanced won’t be attending London or Mifed and Warner Bros. has taken over Kinowelt’s distrib deals for New Line films.

In Spain, the sector is swaying with consolidation, potential buy-ups, blown alliances and probable shifts in output deals. New distribs have emerged, such as Flins & Piniculas, meanwhile, arthouse handlers like Vertigo are moving more mainstream.

This year, our snapshot guide shows how key indies (1% market share and up) have fared in the big five European territories and Australia with market share, top titles this year, upcoming releases and execs repping the companies in London or Mifed.


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