Camerimage: Producer Robert Lantos on Why He’s Sticking With Cinema

BYDGOSZCZ, Poland — Veteran producer Robert Lantos confesses he is “delighted” not to be trying to launch his career now. The founder of Alliance Communications and longtime collaborator with Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg and Denys Arcand says things weren’t easy when he first set out to build indie film production in Canada in the ‘70s. Canadian filmmakers were virtually unknown at the time, says the Hungarian-born producer. But these days things are even more challenging.

Among the major hazards is the double impact that piracy has on indie filmmakers. Studios, Lantos observes, have learned to launch new films to global audiences on the same day, backed by major promotional campaigns. The step-by-step territory releases of old allowed pirates time to put copies of films online before they could reach markets in Europe or Asia so studios learned the lesson, he says. But indie producers have no budgets for global theatrical releases and massive campaigns. He cites his new project with Egoyan, “Remember,” as a painful example. Lantos has seen copies of the film online in every country he has recently visited.

When digital distribution first arrived, filmmakers were told it would empower indie filmmakers with the ability to get their work out to worldwide audiences at little or no cost, Lantos recalls. The reality is the opposite, as he told a group of aspiring filmmakers gathered at Poland’s Camerimage film festival, where he is being honored as a producer of “unique visual sensitivity.”

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Lantos screened “Barney’s Version” at Camerimage, a 2010 project he took deep personal involvement in, he says, because he felt a debt to writer friend Mordecai Richler, who wrote the book from which the film was adapted.

The Oscar-nominated story of a foulmouthed, politically incorrect television producer, for which Paul Giamatti won a Golden Globe, playing opposite Dustin Hoffman as his streetwise ex-detective father and Rosamund Pike as his moral counterweight, is the kind of film that met Lantos’ criteria from the start he says.

“I have to fall in love with it – these days it takes nothing less than total, crazy love.”

A similar personal obsession drove Lantos’ work with Hungarian art film director Istvan Szabo, whom the producer said he dreamed of working with for years but had never met until they sat down together to talk about what later became “Sunshine.” The 1999 chronicle of a dynasty of Hungarian Jews crushed under the weight of Nazis and then Soviet rule won awards worldwide for its standout storytelling and the performances of Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz.

Would-be producers trying to launch a career these days will find the least threatening waters in television, Lantos says, praising the subtlety of work now coming out of HBO and other networks.

Personally, he says, he’ll stick with cinema. “You can have many mistresses but you can only have one true love — for me that’s film.”

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