Frances Ha
Courtesy of IFC

Last month, Fortissimo Films and Metrodome Group shuttered their doors. As a veteran of the independent film industry, I can’t let the closing of two art-house darlings go unnoticed.

After three decades in film, I never expected these companies to fold, much less on the same day. If companies like these falter, how will filmmakers distribute films that can inspire audiences? There are no easy answers, but I’m hoping our industry figures it out.

Fortissimo and Metrodome gave us films that changed lives, told stories about humanity, and inspired filmmakers. Fortissimo and Metrodome pioneered Asian and art-house cinema sales and distribution, respectively, and played a pivotal role in bringing talent such as Wong Kar-wai and Olivier Assayas to a global audience. Sadly, their closing proves that having taste and an outstanding catalog isn’t enough anymore.

Hong Kong- and Amsterdam-based Fortissimo Films was founded in 1991. In addition to Wong Kar-wai, Fortissimo launched the careers of Brillante Mendoza and Tsai Ming-liang. The company’s library includes works like “Mystery Train,” “In the Mood for Love,” “Chungking Express,” “Seven Swords,” “Coffee and Cigarettes,” and documentaries
such as Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me,” Martin Scorsese’s “Shine a Light,” and Andrew Jarecki’s “Capturing the Friedmans.”

Similarly, Metrodome launched in 1995, and distributed art-house films by Lars von Trier, Lukas Moodysson, and Thomas Vinterberg. Metrodome has distributed titles such as “Monster,” “The Falling,” “The Counterfeiters,” and “The Secret in Their Eyes,” as well as Ben Wheatley’s debut “Down Terrace” and Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha.”

Indie films don’t generate profit like they used to because audiences don’t seek them out as previous generations did. The fate of Fortissimo and Metrodome might be a sign of things to come. For example, the Weinstein Co., a cornerstone of independent film, laid off 50 people over the past year. Indie studio Broad Green Pictures, which released “I Smile Back” and “99 Houses,”
laid off five people in July and announced it would be focusing on movies with broader appeal.

However, I have to believe that it’s not all gloom and doom; there are still ways to bring meaningful films to audiences. But the business is changing and we need to get more creative. Independent distributor Abramorama is focusing on films with a loyal, built-in audience — films that Richard Abramowitz, its president, defines as “tribal.” Just last month, it worked with Distribber, a service that lets creatives upload to distribution platforms such as iTunes. Of working with Abramorama, Distribber CEO Nick Soares said, “Our goals are aligned — maximizing visibility for great films and economic vibrancy for filmmakers.”

Streaming is another revenue source. This year, Amazon and Netflix bought 12 films at Sundance. Some of these filmmakers may shorten or completely forgo the traditional 90-day theatrical release, but, in the process, they may have the potential to reach a wider audience.

Independent film is facing unprecedented circumstances, especially when the filmmakers are new and haven’t established themselves. Creative solutions exist, and if pursued, we might be in for a renaissance. However, as the monetary value of films diminishes, something must be done so that new voices are heard.

What can we do?

We — audiences, fans, creatives — can support indie filmmakers and distributors by watching their films and posting reviews online when we discover movies we love. The films are there — submissions to film festivals have reached an all-time high — and we can help audiences fall in love with independent cinema. Fans must demand that these films get distributed, through either traditional channels or internet platforms.

Separately, it’s important that the next generation receives support from veteran filmmakers themselves, who at some point in their lives, were also filling out festival applications to get their careers started. We had stars in our eyes once, too — it’s time for us to pay it forward.

Ruth Vitale, who has held top executive posts at indie film outfits including Paramount Classics, Fine Line Features, and New Line Cinema, is CEO of CreativeFuture, a nonprofit coalition of 450 companies and organizations and more than 75,000 creative individuals devoted to promoting the value of creativity in the digital age. #StandCreative 

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