International Industry Thinks Out of the Box

Brainstorming Step-In sessions tackles alternative distribution models, key challenges for arthouse film distribution/exhibition

International Industry Thinks Out of the

LOCARNO – Brainstorming a wide range of distribution issues, Locarno’s Step-In one-afternoon group sessions – organized by Nadia Dresti, Locarno head of international, and industry consultant Sophie Bourdon – produced a huge number of reflections, analysis, and ideas. Three group moderators sampled some of these. Here are their notes:


TOPIC: Audience Development in Public and Communal Settings

Cinema on Demand (as opposed to Video on Demand) is rapidly becoming a new trend and handing the power back to the audience is paramount in bringing them back into venues.

There’s too many movies, not enough cinemas. Festivals absorb a lot of it but there’s an issue of capacity. This balance doesn’t apply in new markets like Eastern Europe (Baltics particulary);

Event cinema is becoming very important;

How do we make venues accessible to everyone – less elitist?

Exhibitors need to have more of a say in the areas of production, distribution – as they are at the front lines and understand audiences better than anyone in the value chain

Traveling and outdoor cinemas are becoming important parts of the exhibition landscape


TOPIC: The Increasing Importance of Curation and Community.

These are issues that we explore daily at the Film Society of Lincoln Center now as we engage with our audience.

Our group started from the viewpoint that there are too many movies available today (and that number will only get bigger). As one international industry person said in our session, “Its great to make them available, but how do audiences find them?” Our group included sales agents, exhibitors, distributors and members of FERA.

I strongly believe that in an overcrowded landscape, curation is the only guaranteed way to insure films find viewers, the means we must rely on existing structures and institutions but also come up with new approaches that put the audiences interests, not the industry’s needs first.

Film festivals have become a key filtering mechanism for the both industry and moviegoers, so we discussed the ways in which both the festivals and audiences themselves can be key curators for viewers and came up with three ideas to explore further. Ryan Werner from Cinetic Media in the U.S. elaborated on some of the initiatives explored stateside as the industry has grappled with new ways of serving audiences.

A European film marketer, Mathias Nochis from Alphapanda, suggested that there’s a large number of films from festivals and markets that remain unsold to specific territories. He suggested that sales companies put select titles on a platform like Vimeo (charging incremental viewing costs per download to movie fans) as a way of not only combating piracy but growing an audience in a new market for individual art house filmmakers.

Peter Ahlen from TrustNordisk, a member of the Locarno Industry Academy, suggested that we more fully explore an idea that emerged during our workgroup session, namely a specialized database for art house films from the festival circuit. These films have already been curated by festivals and an idea that took room during our conversation is that such a database that serves an international audience and provides a starting point for audiences giving them a place to skim or search titles from top festivals (Cannes, Berlin, Sundance, Locarno, New York and more) with each film entry offering audiences links to the various ways they can watch a film (in theaters, on a digital platform, etc) with links to editorial content about the film from film critics. As moviegoers find and share information on these movies to their own network they’ll become curators, as well.

Daniel Melamed from New Cinema in Israel told the group about the challenges of screening and marketing films amidst the current strife back home. He offered some unique insights that reminded all in attendance that we need to remain nimble whether because of current events or simply changing consumer habits. There’s a hunger among audiences to see movies but how do you get the word out when media are interrupted by constant news and alerts. He has had to rethink marketing approaches on the fly rather than rely on planned methods.

Finally, Gabriel Baur from FERA encouraged the group to engage filmmakers as partners in curation, explaining that directors already have a built in following and can help bring attention to new and old films alike as the group aim to build social media and community support for finding films both online and in theaters. That said, others in the group cautioned that the role of social media platforms is constantly changing, for example, while Facebook was the channel of choice now very long ago, it has not become more of an advertising platform. Twitter is now the truly social media allowing direct access to audiences for engagement and offers, as Gosia Kuzdra from Estraza Poznanska in Poland explained. She and her colleagues have created unique offers for their theater audience to fill special event screenings and encourage return visits. They are still experimenting but the results so far are promising.


TOPIC: Practicalities of Multi-Platform /Multi-Territorial/Day & Date and VoD releases

Europe is still far behind the U.S.  and Day & Date is a slow process that will come territory-by-territory. The discussions have been going on for years and will continue to do so, but we are now starting to get examples from different titles, for instance from the U.K., Czech Republic/Slovakia and Belgium. Legislations and window holdback regulations are making the process slower as well as the fact that exhibitors are very much against a day & date release and don’t want to screen films if released digitally at the same time.

This, combined with the challenges of different language dubbed, subtitled or with voiceover, means that in the pan-European territories this is not something that will happen right now. But the pan-European idea is more to be used for interfaces of technology, delivery databases to find films etc. something that could be done with support from Creative Europe.

Pan-European Licensing is possible and happening straight to VoD already, but for selected territories, meaning that certain territories are carved out, if a distributor is already attached. The technology for this exists and is being used already, but the territory definition is still a very essential point in our industries.

Pan-European licensing can be a possibility as straight to VoD for small films that don’t find their way to distributors in the traditional way. The obstacles here, however, are how to get the films visible and recognized on the platforms, and therefore the PR & Marketing in this sector also needs to be developed.

It is a topic that we will keep on talking about for many years to come, getting a little further every year.


TOPIC: Audience development at home

The rules and results of (S)VOD, pay TV, DVD , free TV etc are different in each territory.  In the U.S., Netflix output is only no more than five months after the initial theatrical release, or in case of straight to DVD no longer than than five months after that release. In the Netherlands, Netflix does buy library material.

The difficulty of SVOD becoming an effective partner for arthouse content is that these platforms increasingly produce their own content (“House of Cards”) in order to keep licensing costs down.

In the U.S., there is no TV  at all for foreign language whereas in some cases (for example, for Kino Lorber DVD and Blu-ray has increased, or at least not dropped)

There are structures, think tanks in place for theatrical distribution (such as Europa Distribution) but these don’t exist yet. Everyone is experimenting on their own island, but there should be more debate, co-operation lessons learned from each other etc.

A lot of the audience development in general depends on the type (genre) of film and the subject. What can you build around a film that can attract audiences, increase the visibility on social media etc and cause word-of-mouth. interactivity is important.

For a distributor such as Benelux’s Lumiere it is easier to experiment with home entertainment with their crime series for example. With their feature films this is much harder to do, because of the traditional structures.  In, general exhibitors are not involved and distributors deal with the problem of the holdback of windows before they can do anything with the film on free/pa TV, SVOD etc.

Crowd-funding for distribution, besides financing

production, could help multiplatform releases of niche films.

Festivals with already large audiences can play a role in audience development at home for niche/arthouse films. Venice does this for example with Sala Web, day & dating

Horizons titles online in a virtual screening room. For each film that participates 800 virtual tickets (400 within Italy and 400 outside) are available, a person who buys a ticket has access to the film for five days online.

Asking a sales agent such as The Match Factory, again it is clear that it depends which film it is (and if it is appropriate to watch on a small screen), who the filmmaker is (and what kind of following they have), and also that the producer of the film plays a role in the promotion. And in this case it helps that the rights-holders of the films trust in the people behind the project so they know the film will be well protected.

International Film Festival Rotterdam has several distribution initiatives, a YouTube channel, IFFR in the Cloud in cooperation with Under The Milky Way. And it is working on a new project, IFFR Live, in a consortium with Trust Film, Doc & Film and Fortissimo. Three-to-five films will be premiered during Rotterdam theatrically and simultaneously in theatres around Europe and online. Audiences will have interactive access to the Q & A with the film team etc. Again, it depends on whether a distributor can convince distributors/exhibitors to participate and that again depends on the kind of film. Furthermore there are technicalities to deal with such as: Do you include the audience at home live in the Q & A on VOD and how is this technically possible in each country etc.

Film funds could play a larger role in the mapping of viewing/consumer behavior at home of an audience in a certain region or country. Telefilm Canada is doing this throughout Canada.