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Kino Lorber at 5: Distributor Finds Tomorrow’s Classics in Today’s Fest Scene

Even though the corporate specialty film entity known as Kino Lorber turns five this year, the roots of the firm reach back decades, a fact that’s essential to understanding its tactical methods and strategic goals.

Back in 2009 when the late Donald Krim’s Kino Intl. merged with Richard Lorber’s Lorber HT Digital, the union was touted in the New York Times as making the combined entity “the biggest of the little guys.”

Krim, a world-class world film aesthete and tireless champion of foreign language and classic cinema, died of cancer in 2011, but the new firm benefitted by having in Lorber a second father with credentials and stamina rooted in the same passions and practical savvy.

Though the firm is centered in New York, Lorber spoke to Variety from his home in Paris, and the tireless film pro has been a familiar and vital face on the international film festival circuit for decades. Lorber recalls his time on the fest road began “at the U.S. Film Festival in the early ’80s, which became something called Sundance.”

There was another significant “something” at that time, which was the explosive growth of a then-nascent industry called “home entertainment” that fueled the rise of the powerhouse specialty label Fox Lorber. “Remember VHS?” asks Lorber. “We were specializing in titles that weren’t full-throttle theatrical releases, but were films with arthouse appeal (that) could work as direct-to-video releases and garner publicity by playing film festivals.”

Flash forward to 2009 when Krim and Lorber joined forces, and you have a world of specialty film business change. Along the way there was the transformation of Sundance into the pre-eminent American indie film launch-pad, the U.S. indie cinema boom of the ’90s, its financial bust mirroring the financial bubble burst of 2008, and the precipitous decline of the home entertainment market with physical media sales plummeting.

Undaunted, Lorber recalls, “When we acquired Kino in 2009, I looked at the library and thought of my own values. ‘Experience cinema’ was our slogan, a motif for us about cinematically worthy films that, even if not viewed on biggest screens, still represented a shared experience.”

For Lorber, that “experience” has many forms, which he describes as “serious auteurs,” such as “Life of Riley,” the last film by French maestro Alain Resnais and Jean-Luc Godard’s recent Cannes fest 3D hit, “Goodbye to Language,” (pictured) as well as what he calls “canon classics,” like the recently restored Fritz Lang sci-fi masterpiece “Metropolis.”

Another rising genre for Kino Lorber is documentaries, which Lorber says “have become a bright spot for us,” citing Oscar-nominated doc “5 Broken Cameras” and Jerusalem Film Fest award-winner “The Decent One,” based upon the recently discovered diaries of the Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler.

The outfit is also “keen on awareness of classics of tomorrow. The key for us is curation” says Lorber. “That’s where festivals are very important. The filtering is very important for us, along with the exhibitors we work with to help us bring films to market through various delivery systems without overspending.”

In the category of major new film and film artists, Lorber is especially high on Ana Lily Amirpour’s “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” which he describes as “an astounding Gothic nouvelle vampire movie” and compares Amirpour to “Lynch and Jarmusch.” “It’s perfect for us,” says Lorber, who calls it “a stunning, luminous black-and-white film in that’s in the Farsi language but shot in Los Angeles. Why not?”

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