Deal to boost Festival Direct VOD service

In a boost to its Festival Direct video-on-demand service, IFC has struck a package deal for 10 films repped by Celluloid Dreams.

Many of the pics were part of the noted sales company’s Toronto slate, including Caroline Link’s “A Year Ago in Winter” and Hirokazu

Koreeda’s “Still Walking.” Thomas Vinterberg’s “When a Man Comes Home” and Icelandic Oscar submission “White Night Wedding” also come under the pact.

“A lot of these titles we’ve had our eye on for a while,” said Arianna Bocco, IFC’s head of acquisitions. “We have a great relationship with Celluloid Dreams, and they’re big supporters of our model, so we decided to make it a package deal.”

Other titles include Japanese drama “All Around Us,” Brit Cannes preem “Better Things,” the Venice Golden Lion-nommed “Birdwatchers,” French thriller “Mark of an Angel,” Korean crime pic “Plastic City” and German Sundance preemer “The Wave.” The AFI Fest in L.A. is currently screening “Better Things” and “Plastic City.”

Release dates have not yet been set, but all the films are slated for 2009.

Festival Direct, launched in May, now reaches some 32 million households alongside the company’s day-and-date IFC in Theaters label, which has a broader reach to about 52 million homes. For $6.95, consumers can view festival entries from Berlin, Cannes, Venice and other fests during a window of 60-90 days.

The Festival Direct library is a modest 50 or so titles, but execs envision being able to offer 100 pics a year in the near future. IFC, through its different distrib outlets, will end 2008 with nearly 70 releases to its name.

“There are at least five to eight major film festivals each year, and hundreds of films from those that never get seen,” reasoned IFC prexy Jonathan Sehring. “So we hope to ultimately replicate for the filmgoer the experience of being at these festivals.”

That’s an encouraging future for sales agents and producers squeezed by the specialty downturn. IFC, however, pays a fraction of what studio arms do, though with greater backend cuts for filmmakers.

IFC, which has scooped up pics from filmmakers Gus Van Sant, Ken Loach and Arnaud Desplechin over the past year, capped an active Toronto fest in September by bringing in Wild Bunch’s “Che.”

As in the case of that Steven Soderbergh epic, screening in two parts as the director prefers, IFC’s appeal is the flexibility to accommodate filmmakers’ artistic ambitions. The only catch is that filmmakers must get aboard with the potential of VOD and not cling to outdated indie film models — not always an easy sell for veterans of lavish old-style rollouts in the past.

“Film is still an ego-driven business, so you do get certain people wanting their film to play in theaters,” Bocco conceded. “But most of the companies paying these huge amounts to acquire movies and even more to market them have gone out of business. And filmmakers definitely get that.”

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