Challenges Facing the Classic Film Biz Tackled at Lumière MFC Round Tables

Moderator Anthony Bobeau highlights the key issues

Anthony Bobeau – acquisitions executive at Memento Films and former film journalist at Le Film Français – will be presenting two round tables at the Lumiere Festival in Lyon.

On Wednesday afternoon panelists will discuss, “Producing, Directing, Broadcasting Documentaries on Cinema.” On Thursday morning the focus will shift to “Restoring, Managing and Exploiting a Catalog of Classics.” Discussions will highlight current trends in restoration and distribution of heritage cinema. Bobeau agreed to provide Variety with an insight into key issues. The underlying context is of a growing supply of classic titles, with increasing emphasis on restored films that can be released theatrically.

“More and more classic films are being restored and released,” stated Bobeau. “For example, there are one-to-two restored classic films released theatrically in France every week. This constitutes a growing potential market both in France and across Europe.”

This development has stimulated rising interest in making documentaries about classic titles, which can also be released theatrically.

“It’s very important to have documentaries about cinema, about film history,” Bobeau insisted. “It’s easy to find books about literature or about art. It’s equally natural to have films about films, especially if one views cinema as an art form, which is very much the French perspective.”

With the explosion over recent years of niche film channels, DVD, VOD and other distribution outlets, there is increasing interest in such documentaries.

Milestone works include Martin Scorsese’s personal odysseys into American and Italian cinema. Scorsese’s films inspired Bertrand Tavernier to direct his current project, a three-hour documentary, “A Journey into the Heart of French Cinema,” which will be released theatrically in 2016. Wednesday afternoon’s round table will focus on the challenges that arise in distributing such projects – theatrically, via television and other delivery channels.

“There’s a clear market for documentaries about cinema,” suggested Bobeau. “But there are also contradictory trends. For instance, the DVD market is declining at a much faster pace than VOD is growing. Also, the main TV channels – TF1, France Television – won’t show such documentaries on primetime. It’s a challenge for them not to become sidelined.”

The round table will include contributions from Karen Michael, program manager at French-German cultural TV channel Arte, and Bruno Deloye, director of Ciné Plus, Classic. part of the Canal Plus Group, who will talk about strategies for distributing documentaries to television channels.

Thursday’s round table focuses broader issues. Bobeau highlights the evidence of increasing audience interest in classic films, spanning all age groups, including film festivals such as Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna and the Festival Lumière in Lyon and new theatrical venues such as the five-screen Gaumont-Pathé complex, Les Fauvettes, which opens in Spring 2015.

“Some older generations may like classic films because of nostalgia, or the feeling that older films were more interesting than contemporary films, but the biggest audiences for these titles are actually young people,” he observed.

“At the Lumière and Bologna fests, you see teenagers watching these films, often at sold-out sessions. They’re not rediscovering these titles. They’re discovering them for the first time and they love them.”

However, many thorny issues still hamper the classic film business, which will be analyzed in Thursday’s round table. Just two: Split rights and chain-of-title. For example, Marie Armelle Imbault, a lawyer at French rights org, SACD, will talk about the difficulties in locating rights owners; how to renegotiate rights; and how to allocate revenue streams from such titles to disparate rights holders.

Bobeau believes that the key question for classic films is access to rights and audiences’ access to titles, at both a French and European level. “We have the films, the audience, the opportunities and public support,” he concludes. “The key issue is access.”

 

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