Doing the Continental

Traveling fest takes foreign pix to U.S. cities

Considering that some Palme d’Or winners have failed to secure U.S. distribution, the average foreign-language film has to be seen as a non-starter.

Help could be at hand from the Continental, a unique initiative to get more European films shown theatrically in the U.S.

Headed by Catherine Wyler and Robert Lovenheim, the venture is a “touring film festival,” with the planned first edition comprising seven pics from seven countries.

With the collaboration of local U.S. exhibitors, the fest will visit 12 U.S. cities, with each pic being screened twice.

Provisional tour locations include Atlanta, Boston, Charleston, S.C., Kansas City, Mo., and Portland. Ore.

Wyler says Continental’s intended sponsors and backers will underwrite the costs of screening the films, so that the exhibitors do not lose any money. Continental has an estimated provisional budget of around $1 million, per Wyler.

The operation already has won backing from the European Producer’s Club and the European Film Academy. On May 20, Continental received its first wedge of seed money from the British Council.

Wyler now plans to approach national funds such as France’s Unifrance and Germany’s Deutsche Filmexport in order to boost support and funding.

“Ten years ago, the market share of foreign language films in the U.S. was 7%,” Wyler says. “Today, it stands at less than 1%. And most of that audience is aged over 35, meaning that in 10-15 years it might have disappeared completely.”

Continental will organize certain talent visits to coincide with the tour. No films have been selected for the first tour, which is provisionally set for spring 1999, pending financing.

Continental’s board of advisers comprises director Martin Scorsese, director Milos Forman, producer David Puttnam, director Agnieszka Holland, director Robert Wise and director Michael Caton-Jones.