Biz tiptoes toward digital age

Filmmakers are wary of online film distribution trials

While some Dutch filmmakers have begun to speed their productions down the digital highway, most are wary of straying too far from the beaten path.

Slain filmmaker Theo van Gogh and his producer Gijs Van Westerlaken were the first to take advantage of Net distribution when they signed up with Tiscali to premiere van Gogh’s “0605” on the Web. A record number of Tiscali subscribers downloaded the pic, but while the company continues to talk to content suppliers in the territory, no further deals have been inked with Dutch filmmakers.

Patricia Spuijbroek, director of Tiscali Netherlands, believes one issue is unrealistic expectations. “Producers believe Internet providers have deep pockets and will be the money suppliers of the future, which they are not,” she adds.

Spuijbroek adds that Tiscali is interested in setting up co-ventures with content suppliers, but only if there is a marketing relationship involved as well.

Pim Hermeling, general manager for A-Film, the only Dutch indie distrib in the top five in terms of market share, says, “We are trying to keep an open mind to new opportunities, and we’ve been following what Tiscali is doing very carefully.

“We are also very wary,” he adds.

Filmmakers are concerned about illegal downloading. In Holland, broadband connectivity is widespread and there is little legal protection in place. “There is no law in Holland that forbids downloading film, only selling it on the open market,” says Hermeling.

And there’s the rub, according to Doreen Boonekamp, director of the Dutch Film Festival. “The Dutch film community really needs to begin to pay attention to this and right now,” she says. “The ability to download caused untold damage to the music community before it began to act.”

Martin Wolfers, managing director of Warner Bros. Netherlands, which has been investing considerably in picking up Dutch film, notes that preventing Internet piracy download of film is one of the biggest priorities.

However, Boonekamp adds, “Dutch filmmakers need to be able to move with the times, and offer (downloading) as early as it is safe to do so. We can’t follow the example of the music industry, which jumped on it too late.”

Meanwhile, digital technology is injecting new life into the exhibition sector. CinemaNet Europe was launched last year to bring HD films and documentaries in particular to theaters.

Eight countries are members; Holland is home to 25 of the specially equipped cinemas.

In November, the network unspooled a raft of documentary previews, among them Jeremy Gilley’s “Peace One Day,” and has been bowing a new title every month.

The venture has the backing of subsidy org the Dutch Film Fund, in collaboration with the European Union’s Media Program, Salzberger & Co. Medien and Docspace U.K.

The initiative has had its critics. There have been complaints that the quality of projection — films are in HD video or digi-Betacam — has not been as good as was promised. Also, theatrical distrib are upset by the financial support the venture received from state and European bodies. “We see them as competition and they are being subsidized, while we are not,” complains A-Film’s Hermeling.

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