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Busan: European Films Find Home in Asia

Selling European films to Asia has long been a blind spot for international sales agents, but as the film market in the Far East continues to expand while buying power in Europe contracts, finding a home for a film in Asia is becoming increasingly attractive.

“Asia is definitely a growing market especially as European territories are becoming more and more difficult to sell even sophisticated European titles to,” says Studiocanal head of international sales Anna Marsh, who points to Italy, Spain, Greece and Russia as increasingly challenging markets. “Asia is where we are looking for growth.”

But it’s competitive. While different Asian territories are all at different stages of economic evolution, each with their own cultures and local film industries, finding a home for European film, whether arthouse or more mainstream, is not simple.

It’s more a question of genre, says Gabor Greiner of Films Boutique.

“Gay films are quite easy to sell to Taiwan, fashion topics to Japan and the big masters to Korea,” he says. “And we usually sell all rights, including theatrical.”

Actioners and family pics sell well across the board, notes Marsh, who points to tentpole titles such as Liam Neeson starrer “Non-Stop,” “Paddington” and Aardman Animation pic “Shaun the Sheep” as big sellers in the Asian territories. “If you have a film of prestige or a key director attached, they usually find a home,” she says. “The tough sells are the foreign-language (non-English language) titles and comedies that are hard to translate.”

It’s clear that most Asian distributors still need product that can work theatrically to set ancillary value.

Allan Fung, CEO of Hong Kong distrib Panorama, says that a good percentage of English-speaking titles they acquire are mainstream titles that can have a theatrical release.

“All of our European titles are aimed for theatrical release and then to other platforms such as TV and home video,” he says. “Hong Kong’s digital formats are not as well developed as other countries such as the U.S., Korea or even China. It’s still in a developing stage so revenue coming from these platforms is minimal. A niche, non-theatrical title released through these platforms can hardly recoup its costs.”

Hong Kong’s Edko Films, which has acquired Cannes clicks such as “Blue is the Warmest Color” and “Dheepan,” sees theatrical releases of Euro films on a limited scale.

“Only two to four of the 45 cinemas in Hong Kong will book European films,” says Esther Young, Edko’s GM of sales and acquisitions. “We try to put the new films in the cinema as much as we can and sometimes we will let a film be programmed for a local festival and then let it go straight to TV as theatrical release is costly.”

Eugene Song, of South Korean distrib Tcast, says theatrical releases are paramount to the success of a film in the territory.

“We really need to release films theatrically, especially European arthouse films so that they can be shown at cinemas for better profits through all windows,” he says. “We first theatrically release European titles in Korea with the exception of genre (horror or erotic) movies.”

Japan continues to remain one of the more sophisticated Asian markets. A large group of its older population frequents the cinema, and tend to have a love of prestige titles from certain auteurs. Healthy distribs such as Gaga and Kinofilms are back in the pre-sales game, acquiring and releasing titles theatrically before rolling out onto other platforms.

Meanwhile, China’s quota system, which restricts foreign movie imports to 34 pics per year, makes it the one of the more difficult Asian markets to tap into, meaning distribs acquire more foreign titles for TV and VoD rights only.

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