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Digital, Local Production Set San Sebastian Industry Agenda

A Europe Film Forum, and Ibermedia TV Prize major industry novelties

SAN SEBASTIAN – No two San Sebastian festivals are the same. In industry terms, the 63rd San Sebastian Festival has two major novelties: a European Film Forum; a new Ibermedia TV Films in Progress Prize.

Unspooling Sunday, Sept. 20, the Film Forum has analyzed audience-driven funding, distribution and exhibition; backed by Latin America’s state film-TV agencies, the Ibermedia TV plaudit offers a $25,000 grant for second-window non-exclusive free-to-air/digital distribution rights to a fiction feature winner of Films in Progress’ main Industry Prize.

Both initiatives are departures. They all signal the two bedrock revolutions re-forging the movie industry worldwide: Digital domain distribution; local industries’ global rise.

Held under the auspices of the European Commission’s Creative Europe MEDIA program, a funding initiative, Sunday’s Film Forum will segue into a Monday panel, the Basic Pillars For Films to Exist Online, organized by Europa Distribution. Topics take in “an eye-catching legal offer and a decreasing piracy.”

Both debates unspool at a paradoxical time for Europe’s film industry. By common sales agent consensus, it is becoming ever harder for foreign-language films to score theatrical releases beyond domestic markets; prices paid by foreign distributors for foreign-language films have nose-dived: a decade or so ago, France could fetch a low six-figures, not it’s a mid-five figure sum; if you’re lucky. The destiny of many European films, at home as abroad, looks increasingly to be paid festival screenings, nominal theatrical outings, niche free and pay TV and, ever more, VOD distribution.

Many VOD operators remain frustratingly opaque about their operations. At Switzerland’s Locarno Fest last month, Filmin’s Jaume Ripoll, a San Sebastian European Film Forum speaker, offered valuable key parameters to Filmin: From Jan. to April 2015, it saw around 300,000 users and registered more than 300,000 streamings per month: Quite an achievement for piracy-wracked Spain.

Filmin opened an operation in Mexico in June, will bow in in Portugal in December.

Yet European VOD is some years behind the U.S. Its future is likely to be determined by its biggest content or telecommunications companies: Think Vivendi, Sky and Spain’s Telefonica and, from abroad, Netflix.

One question for the 63rd San Sebastian festival is whether the U.S. streaming giant, which launches in October in Spain, will make any announcement at or during the festival about its first Spanish production acquisitions.

Arthouse distribution’s ever-direr straits come despite – and because of – a dramatic ramp-up of national industries. In Europe last year, per the European Audiovisual Observatory, market share for European films in the E.U. leapt from 26.2% to 33.4%, the highest level since the EAO initiated calculations in 1996.

Latin America marks an even clearer case in point. At 62.4 million, 2014 admissions to local films in Latin America nose-dived a hefty 16.9% vs. 2013, per the EAO. Yet that figure (registered for eight major Latin American territories) is, the EAO observed, “well above” Latin American box office levels prior to 2012. And Argentina punched a 17.8% national market share, a modern record. The same phenomenon galvanizes Argentina and Europe: the rise of the local blockbuster: In 2014, France’s “Serial (Bad) Weddings” (17.1 million E.U. admissions), Spain’s “Spanish Affair” (9.3 million)  Argentina’s “Wild Tales” (3.45 million tix sales in Argentina) and now Pablo Trapero’s “The Clan,” which plays San Sebastian’s Perlas section and grossed a first three-weeks $13 million in Argentina, an all time Argentine record.

Yet, as audiences fixate on national cinema, and not just B.O. juggernauts, and local production levels ramp up, indie foreign fare – big U.S. plays, smaller arthouse gems – tends to lose market share; if it ever had one. Hence Ibermedia TV’s new grant, which would allow the Films in Progress winner pan-regional Ibero-American distribution. Spain is subsidy-strapped. But for much of the international industry, the real rub is now not production but distribution.

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