Berlin Daily Spotlight 2013: Central & Eastern Europe

Polish arthouse distributor Gutek Film occupies a particular niche in a demanding market.

Releasing foreign-language arthouse pics can be challenging in Poland, but Gutek had its best year ever in 2012, when what seemed at first like a small French comedy, “The Intouchables,” outperformed expectations, grossing $4.4 million.

Jakub Duszynski, head of acquisitions at Gutek and president of indie distrib group Europa Distribution, says the film was one of the company’s rare “experiments,” which he came across by chance at the Rendez-vous screenings of French films in Paris.

“We look for director-driven films with a strong audience hook: known actors, strong plots. This film was an exception: an unknown director and unsaleable plot, but it worked and was our best film ever,” he says.

Going after top-name arthouse directors — Pedro Almodovar, Jim Jarmusch, Lars von Trier and Terry Gilliam are all favorites — puts Gutek in direct competition with Poland’s larger distributors, says Duszynski, who releases around 15 films a year.

With his 2013 lineup virtually complete — upcoming releases include Almodovar’s “I’m So Excited,” Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives,” Jarmusch’s vampire tale “Only Lovers Left Alive,” and Gilliam’s “The Zero Theorem” — at Berlin’s EFM, Duszynski is looking for 2014 releases.

The top box office hit last year in Poland, which has a population of 38 million, was “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.” The pic grossed $10.8 million. Top local pic, with $7.8 million, was Leszek Dawid’s “You Are God,” which is the story of Polish hip-hop band Paktofonika and the life and untimely death of its charismatic frontman Piotr Luszcz.

Distributors in the Czech Republic and Slovakia face competition of another sort: from TV channel Film Europe, which was launched by Slovak entrepreneur Ivan Hronec in late 2011.

A subscription service accessed via cable and satellite packages, Film Europe aims at a niche audience willing to pay for quality arthouse content.

Hronec has built up a library of 800 titles that includes Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Amour” and other top titles, and is now looking at expansion in the region, and even further afield.

Hronec, who buys all rights as well as doing deals for TV rights only where that is not possible, is also looking at streaming the channel over other platforms to reach his audience, which at present is 50,000 subscribers.

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