Snazzy strategy boosts Benelux area indies

A-film focuses on important filmmakers

AMSTERDAM — Cross-border partnerships and savvy strategizing among indie companies in Holland and Belgium are upping the stakes in the Benelux region.

A-Film Distribution has moved into the No. 3 distrib spot in the Netherlands thanks to its “The Lord of the Rings” windfall. Its two “Rings” outings totaled nearly $20 million in gross receipts over release periods in 2001 and 2002.

Company is focusing on films from important helmers, notes managing director Pim Hermeling, and this year’s lineup includes Lars von Trier’s “Dogville,” Jane Campion’s “In the Cut” and popular local helmer Robert Jan Westdijk’s “Phileine Says Sorry.”

A-Film nabbed the No. 3 spot away from local distrib RCV Entertainment, which held the position in 2001 and now holds the No. 7 spot. But company prexy Jan Kouwenhoven says RCV is well on its way to regaining market share with titles that include “Gangs of New York,” “Chicago,” “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” and Ben Sombegaart’s local hit “Twins.”

RCV biz strategy is a purely commercial one, notes Kouwenhoven. “We don’t handle films because they are beautiful. We do it because we think they will make money.”

Strong alliances between A-Film and Belgium’s Cinelibre-Cineart have boosted the local indies’ profiles in both territories. While official film stats are not yet in for Belgium,”Rings” grosses are expected to give Cinelibre-Cineart a boost in the market share standings in Belgium for 2002, and an even bigger slice of the pie in 2003.

Kinepolis Film Distribution, which is allied with Holland’s RCV, suffered a similar fate to its partner when coming up against Cineart-Cinelibre’s “Rings” and is expected to slip from its 2001 position as the fourth-biggest distrib when 2002 stats come in.

Distrib Elysee Films nabbed the No. 3 spot in Belgium in 2001 on the back of “Amelie.” Though that highpoint is unlikely to be matched, titles such as “Monster’s Ball,” “Bandits,” and “Shaolin Soccer” in 2002, and a 2003 lineup that includes French comedy “Tanguy,” Paul Schrader’s “Exorcist” prequel and “Blackout,” are bolstering Elysee’s market share.

Elysee CEO Eric Brawerman says times are tougher than ever for indies. “The multiplexes (schedule) four titles a week and if you are not among the top eight, you get kicked out,” he says. “You also have to be very careful about choosing release dates that do not come up against a major blockbuster title.”

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