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Berlin: Protagonist’s Vanessa Saal Looks Forward to Industry’s Revitalization

Vanessa Saal, head of worldwide sales at Protagonist Pictures, joined the company in 2014 from Studiocanal. Its slate includes Oren Moverman’s “The Dinner,” and four pics that premiered at Sundance.

What are the highlights of your slate?

Berlin will be the first chance for many international buyers to see our Sundance premieres: Taika Waititi’s “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” Joshua Marston’s “Complete Unknown,” Whit Stillman’s “Love & Friendship” and Rob Zombie’s “31.” Recent additions include “The Dinner,” which stars Richard Gere and Steve Coogan.

How does Protagonist stand out from the crowd?

We are a filmmaker-friendly company, and are working with some exciting directors like Ben Wheatley and Andrea Arnold. We want to make these filmmakers feel supported. We have lovely feedback from distributors on the quality of our slate. Our films are growing in scale. Our team has also expanded. We have good relationships with the financiers as well.

What are the major developments affecting the independent film market, such as the decline of DVD, the rise of subscription VOD sites, and EU proposals to reform copyright?

You have covered most of them. The independent film business is definitely in the process of transitioning, and some people are quite scared. All the revenue streams are changing. But I am hopeful that the industry has the potential to revitalize itself.

How does Berlin compare with other film events?

Berlin is slightly less of a pre-sales market than AFM or Cannes because the new content is not always there. We’ve had certain titles on which we have done great pre-sales. If you have the right pre-sellable content than it can be a great market. Also, you have distributors in Berlin who are slightly more high-brow so you can introduce films there that are more thought-provoking and intriguing.

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