Benelux: Region’s audience tastes are a tough call

Territory Reports

BENELUX DATA
Belgium
B.O. cume (through July): $77 million
Top title: “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” (Fox, $ 4.2 million)
Netherlands
B.O. cume (through September): $120 million
Top title: “Madagascar” (UIP, $6.2 million)
Luxembourg
B.O. cume (through September): $6.2 million
Top title: “Madagascar” (UIP, $294,000)

RECENT PICKUPS
“Dreamer” (RCV)
“Cowboy” (Belga)
“Metal, a Headbanger’s Journey”(Paradiso Entertainment)
“Mrs. Henderson Presents” (A Film)
“Vers le sud”(1MoreFilm)

AFM TITLES
“Black Book”: Helmer Paul Verhoeven makes his European comeback with a $19 million pic about a Jewish woman who in its last days of WWII tries to discover who betrayed her family to the Nazis. Pic is being shot in Holland and Germany. Cast includes Carice Van Houten and Thom Hoffman. In production. (Sales: Content Film Intl.)
“Mr. Average”: Satirical romantic comedy by Pierre-Paul Renders (“Thomas in Love”). Pic’s produced by Entre Chien et Loup, with Reza Prods., Amerique film and Tradewind Pictures as co-producers. Cast includes: Khalid Maadour, Caroline Dhavernas and Chantal Lauby. In production in 2006. (Sales: Fortissimo)
“Ms. Montigny”: Set in a mining town in Belgium, pic follows a woman who enters a beauty contest to get the attention needed to open her own beauty salon. A co-production between Belgium, Luxembourg and France, and helmed by Dutch first-timer Miel van Hoogenbemt. Screens privately at AFM. Sales: High Point Films & TV.

AMSTERDAM — Indies in the Benelux region are taking it on the chin as much the majors when it comes to the recent drop in B.O. revenues, but there are some interesting bright spots on the horizon for the region.

Take distrib Independent Films. Its main office is in Belgium, but it also has a Dutch operation that’s sizzling. Local pics such as “Chameleon,” “Schnitzel Paradise” (screens at AFM), and “Zoop in Africa” are among the top three Dutch films at the box office this year and have racked up enough receipts to put the indie distrib among the market share leaders dominated by the majors in Holland.

Independent Films doesn’t acquire rights but rather distributes for companies such as Belgium’s Belga Films and Elysee, the Netherlands’ Dutch Film Works and Bridge Entertainment, and acts a consultant at events such as AFM.

“Films that easily found their target this year included ‘The Grudge’ and ‘White Noise,’ but we’re seeing diminished interest in horror,” says Rachel van Bommel, managing director of Independent Films’ Dutch operations.

Films such as “Sahara” and “The Aviator,” she says, “did reasonably well,” but neither was anything to shout about. “Our clients are generally looking for quality films, not just mainstream but a broad range that runs to crossover and arthouse.”

Indie distribs in both Holland and Belgium are coping with many challenges, among them divvying up DVD rental and sell through revenues, high ticket costs and piracy. RCV CEO Jan Kouwenhoven says the only titles he’s interested in these days are those with a potential for a theatrical release. “Without that, they have no real value.” RCV also picks up titles for Belgian indie topper KFD.

Kouwenhoven adds that one of the biggest problems for indies is figuring out audience tastes. What they want, he says, is not action, not horror, but the elusive “something different,” he says.

But there’s a fine line when it comes to getting it right, notes Eric Engelen, an acquisitions and distribution consultant for Belgian-Dutch distributor Paradiso Entertainment. “A lot of product that is too artsy or too commercial, but aside from Almodovar, where is the really big indie talent? This year has been disappointing.”

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