Globalization threat to indies, panel sez

Supply outpacing demand seen as major factor

The American Film Market kicked off its seminar sessions Monday with a panel gathered to address whether the globalization of the Hollywood film business is creating yet another threat to the survival of independent films.

Larry Jackson, president of Seventh Wave Prods., moderated the panel, whose participants were a blend of distribution, production and exhibition mavens.

Gathered were Joost Bert, CEO of Belgian distributor-exhibitor the Kinepolis Group; Stephen Gilula, prexy and CEO of Los Angeles-based Landmark Theatre Corp.; Bingham Ray, co-prexy of October Films; Jeff Sackman, president of Canadian producer-distributor Lions Gate Films; Rena Ronson, executive VP of Lakeshore Intl.; and Jim Kozak, communications director for the National Assn. of Theatre Owners.

Among the issues raised was the recent practice of releasing overseas studio-financed films almost concurrently with their wide-release domestic launches, a move that threatens to squeeze independent films out of cinemas overseas the way they’ve been domestically.

It became clear that one of the biggest problems facing indie films is not necessarily a shortage of theaters, but a glut of independently financed films. The panelists concurred that in recent years film has become a more accessible art form, and the indie community has expanded beyond its arthouse roots to include dentists and lawyers flush with cash who want to direct.

While the panelists seem to agree that globally screens are used less and less for indie films, October’s Ray stated, “There are thousands of independently financed films hoping for distribution, but a majority of them just suck.”

“There is just way too much supply,” said Lions Gate’s Sackman. “The pendulum has shifted from eight to 12 years ago, when demand outstripped supply. The ancillary markets can no longer support this supply.”

According to Ray, because the indies no longer can rely solely on the sales of TV and video rights “films have to perform theatrically globally in order to maximize all ancillary markets.”

And according to Ronson, that’s harder to achieve now that major films overseas are echoing their domestic releases and opening on 3,000 screens, which limits those screens available to the indies.

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