East Europeans urged to unite

Locarno hosts meeting for region's industryites

LOCARNO — Eastern European producers and distributors must combine their resources if they want to get better deals on distributing movies or buying product for local screens.

That was the message at the Locarno Film Festival’s new industry event Step In, focussing on the region.

Steep minimum guarantees demanded by many sales agents and the muscle of regional power bases weaken the bargaining power of smaller individual territories, industryites heard on Sunday at the Swiss fest.

Baltic state distributors in particular complain that European and U.S. titles are frequently packaged for multi-territory sale to Russian distributors for all former Soviet states — including linguistically distinct Baltic countries that are now part of the EU.

Tiina Savi, of Estonian arthouse distrib Black Hand and exhibitor Kino Soprus, said that the two biggest challenges facing the country were digitalization, with rural movie houses unable to afford the upgrade, and Russian distribs buying packaged sales of international movies, diminishing access to interesting titles.

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“Dealing with Russian distributors is a challenge because they have little incentive to sell films for exhibition to the Baltics,” she said, explaining that the territories could afford only modest prices.

“Russians mainly buy films for TV rights and have little interest in exhibition in smaller territories,” Savi added.

Smaller territories could get better market access if countries pooled resources, per Sasha Wieser, CEO of Vienna-based EastWest film distribution.

“The problem is that to prove a project has value, sales agents often put in a big minimum guarantee at the beginning of a project and then are looking for a return, demanding a minimum guarantee from distributors. Doing one package deal rather than many smaller deals is a business-driven decision,” he said.

Loic Magneron president of Paris-based Wide Management, said that since sales agents were now intrinsic to the financing of many movies, making individual deals with small territories — where even flat-rate deals might only be counted in the low thousands of dollars — was often uneconomic.

Joel Chapron, Russian and Eastern European specialist with French film export org UniFrance, said many of the challenges faced by smaller countries were related to their geopolitical history, with power bases in Moscow for the former Soviet Union; Belgrade, Zagreb and Ljubljana for the former Yugoslavia; and Prague for what was Czechoslovakia.

There were signs that individual territories were beginning to make solo efforts, he said: a Kazakhstan company recently bought rights for French actioner “The Assault,” directed by Julien Leclercq. But regional groupings would make sense.

Dana Bacanu of Romania’s Asociatia Culturala Macondo urged sales agents to do more to understand regional markets.

“They could look at such ideas as the German model, where contracts include hold-backs for non-commercial films to be screened by cultural bodies,” when selling wider packages, she suggested.

Locarno wraps on Saturday.