LYON – Underscoring the gathering industry build in the classics film business across Europe, and putting forward a business model which could be adopted by other cinematheques, Italy’s Cineteca di Bologna is moving into theatrical distribution.
In an initial move, the Cineteca has pacted with arthouse chain Circuito Cinema, co-owned by some of Italy’s top quality film distributors, such as Bim Distribuzione and Mikado, for Circuito Cinema to screen one classic movie re-issue a month. Movies will all have pristine restored prints.
First film up is “Dial M For Murder,” in 3D, released on 32 copies Sept. 23. Results have been “quite pleasing,” the Cineteca di Bologna’s Gian Luca Farinelli said at a 12-speaker debate on A New Economy For Classic Cinema, which took place Wednesday, kicking off the Lumiere Festival first Classic Films Market.
Screening just Mondays and Tuesdays, “Dial M For Murder” ranked first to fourth in B.O. on the days of its screenings in some cities where it played and 15th at Italy’s national box office, Cineteca sources said.
Further titles scheduled for theatrical runs include Luchino Visconti’s “The Leopard,” opening Oct. 28, Marcel Carne’s “Children of Paradise,” bowing Nov. 25 and 1960’s “The Passionate Thief,” a romantic crime comedy with Anna Magnani and Ben Gazzara, released Dec. 9.
The Bologna film archive already runs a film lab, L’Immagine Ritrovata, whose restorations are eagerly commissioned by major classics players in Europe, such as Pathe and Studiocanal. Celebrating its 27th edition last June, its classic film festival, Il Cinema Ritovata, is the oldest of its kind in the world.
The Cineteca’s third expansive move – into distribution – was part reaction to a 50% cut in public funding, Farinelli said in Lyon. Bit it also appeals to a newfound public appetite for heritage cinema that threaded many speakers’ comments at the debate. That is seen most clearly in France.
In 2012, five re-issues – led by Jean Renoir’s “La Grande Illusion,” with 32,479 admissions – sold more than 10,000 tickets, per Le Film Francais’ Jean-Philippe Guerand.
2013 is all the more impressive: While France’s box office is plunging in 2013, down 5.8% to a total 137.5 million, per France’s CNC film board, box office for revivals has spiked, Guerand observed, citing acclaimed French animation movie “La Roi et l’oiseau,” which has run up 62,244 tix sales, Chris Marker’s “Le Joli mai” (33,852) and Jacques Tati’s “Jour de fete” (25,500).
In 2013, 16 re-issues have passed the 10,000 admissions mark in France, said Emma Deleva, at Ecran Total.
Multiple factors are at play, she added: the near complete digitization of cinemas, accounting for 1,930 out of 2,035 theaters, per Cinego; hiked state support, via a 2010 Grand Emprunt low-credit line for the digitization of titles and a Euros12.4 million fund at the CNC, slated spring 2012, for the digitization and restoration of reissues, made on 267 titles to date.
The benefits of digitization – of prints and theaters – have been notable,
In 2013, for instance, 500 cinemas, 85% in mid-size or small towns or villages, have tapped public ADRC aid and repertory titles. Screenings of films ADRC’s 400-title repertory catalogue are already up 51% to 2,700 through September 2013 vs. the whole of 2012, Deleva said.
Digital has accelerated the interest of the industry and audiences in heritage cinema, said Vincent Paul-Boncour at Carlotta Films, which has distributed five of the top ten re-issues in France this year.
When Carlotta launched in 1998, “the interest in ‘70s-90s revivals wasn’t obvious, now it is,” he added.
A pay TV channel panel, with OCS’ Guillaume Jouhet and CineClassics Bruno Deloye, suggested a high number of viewers – maybe 20% – who showed a significant fidelity towards classic films.
VOD is still a young medium in France. A few titles can punch 10,000 to 15,000 buys but, more important than individual film figures, is the fact that between first-run, recent movies and re-issues Filmo TV works a 3,000 title catalogue, said Filmo TV’s Jean Olle Laprune
France’s state support system is, of course, the envy of the world. “When we go around the world, we realize how lucky we are,” Paul-Boncour commented.
Lacking public support for cinemas’ digital switchover, in the U.S., in contrast, digitization has proved more of a double-edged sword.
“DCP gives us more programming options. There are certainly less headaches about print quality, and tremendous savings,” of around $35,000 in shipping costs in a single year,” said Rialto Pictures/Film Forum’s Bruce Goldstein.
On the downside, the DCP revolution “oddly, in some ways, is responsible for bringing the quality of film presentation down in smaller markets.”
“In a country where there are no subsidies for DCP conversion, smaller American venues which cannot afford the astronomical costs of new equipment are resorting to showing films on Blu-ray,” Goldstein said.
In the meantime, the big multiplexes, not having to deal with film prints any more, find it very easy to show big classics like “The Godfather” and “Taxi Driver.”
“So the few remaining repertory theaters in America, and there aren’t that many, are competing with these large chains for some of the already very niche parts of the marketplace,” Goldstein concluded.
Detailing his three-year-long work of “Lawrence of Arabia” – eliminating scratches and emulsion damage – Grover Crisp, who received a tribute, delivered a master-class on film restoration.
Among advantages of digital, “we can do things we couldn’t do in photo-chemical,” Crisp said.
“In the latter, if there was a scene that was badly torn, we could only replace it with another piece of film that did not have the tear,” he said.
With digital, “we can still make use of the damaged negative, as damaged as it is.”
The disadvantage is that “the technology is so powerful:” Films can be manipulated, over-processed, he added.
A New Economy for Classic Cinema was introduced by Jerome Paillard, who delivered a brief history of film markets, placing Lumiere’s Classic Films Market in the context of a new generation of film events. Beyond the “general” film markets of Berlin, Cannes and the American Film Market, these now count markets that specialize in a region – Ventana Sur, for instance, in Latin American cinema – or a theme, such as Lumiere’s classic movies.
Scott Founds contributed to this report