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Netflix Takes Sundance Director Winner ‘Belgica’ for Global (EXCLUSIVE)

Pick-up just part of a slew of business before and at Berlin as Netflix launches globally

BERLIN – SVOD giant Netflix closed at Berlin on global rights to Felix van Groeningen’s “Belgica,” in negotiations begun at the 2016 Sundance Festival, where the movie won best director, World Cinema Dramatic section.

Netflix has acquired global exclusive SVOD rights, excluding Benelux, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, France and former-Yugoslavia, to Van Goeoningen’s fifth feature, sold by The Match Factory, and follow-up to the Academy Award-nominated “The Broken Circle Breakdown.”

Boasting that same mix of character-driven family drama and music as “Breakdown,” the latter from Belgian band Soulwax, “Belgica” stars Tom Vermeir and Stef Aerts as two ill-matched brothers who launch the hottest nightclub in town – until success is engulfed by excess. Vet Dirk Impens produces for Menuet, in co-production with Netherlanda Topkapi and France’s Pyramide Productions. .

Made on an accessible arthouse movie – and potential more mainstream crowdpleaser in its native Belgian – the Netflix deal looks typical of Netflix’s MO for foreign-language titles as well as just part of a slew of ongoing business before and at Berlin for the streaming giant as Netflix cherry-picks top foreign-language titles from around the world to feed its global launch in now 190 countries: Exclusive global rights, save for theatrical in a limited number of territories. And the less the number of cinema theater bows, the more money Netflix will pay.

“Our first cooperation with Netflix is an exciting new journey. We are convinced Felix van Groeningen’s vibrant story of the rise and fall of two brothers in the night club scene is a perfect match,“ said Michael Weber, managing director of the Match Factory.

Deal looks typical of Netflix’s MO and just part of a slew of ongoing business before and at Berlin as Netflix cherry-picks top foreign-language titles from around the world to feed its global launch.

Where big U.S. titles were concerned, Berlin certainly doesn’t look like Netflix’s finest hour. The talk of Sundance was its losing out to Fox Searchlight in a bidding war over top fest title “The Birth of a Nation.” At Berlin, Netflix is believed to have expressed interest in George Clooney’s “Suburbicon,” which was acquired for domestic by Paramount Pictures. Amazon, which gives movies up to a 90-day U.S. theatrical window, bid and lost out to Focus Features on Jeff Nichols’ “Loving.”

One common explanation is that sales companies, and the producers they rep, were underwhelmed by “Beasts of No Nation’s” theatrical box office and nil Academy Award nomination count.

Other factors are at play. Although Netflix can pay top-dollar, “There’s certainly more money by having all rights ignited by cinema,” said Bloom’s Alex Walton, who sold out near all of international on “Suburbicon.” (CAA handled the domestic deal.)

But, said one sales agent just before Berlin, “If you don’t have the star or director power or a concept’s not appealing enough for buyers to pre-buy, Netflix and Amazon are interesting and ambitious models.”

“Every filmmaker has different needs, and every film is different in opportunities and channels,” FilmNation’s Glen Basner argued on the eve of Berlin.

He added: “We have two jobs: To monetize the film as best as possible and to do it in a way that gets the greatest number of eyeballs to see the film. If Amazon, Netflix or anyone else answers yes to both of those questions, it’s a great opportunity for us and for other producers and sales agents.”

When it comes to foreign-language titles, sales agents and producers may well prefer to take Netflix’s bid over the often highly hazardous task these days of attempting to roll out a film theatrically across 45 territories, in an age of contracting cinema theater plays for most overseas movies. Even if a film snags theatrical distribution, its screen count may be limited. In some countries – think Brazil – many parts of the country simply don’t have movie theaters.

So title announcements are being made on select high- or higher-profile foreign-language titles.

Nicolas Lopez’s femme comedy “No Filter,” which has grossed an extraordinary $5 million in Chile, is financed by Netflix, which makes it available in May. Netflix itself revealed Jan. 31 that it had snagged exclusive global rights to Indian Sundance hit sex comedy “Brahman Naman.”  On Feb. 8, on the cusp of Berlin, Constantin and Beta confirmed reports that Netflix had acquired global rights to hit German comedy “Look Who’s Back,” outside German-speaking territories, Japan and Taiwan, Benelux, Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Rumors at Berlin are that Netflix has also acquired near global rights – the movie will bow theatrically in Chile – on Alejandro Fernandez Almendras’ Sundance/Berlin selected “Much Ado About Nothing.”

On such top foreign titles, Netflix is said to run its algorithms, ask for sales agents’ own calculations of foreign business, and pay pretty well top dollar. In round-the-year business, the SVOD giant is also loading up on foreign-language catalog titles, where it is said to pay slightly less than prices producers traditionally achieved from now fiscally pressured broadcasters. It is also naturally enough meeting with top product suppliers, sales agents and producers from around the world.

Berlin was not Netflix’s nor Amazon’s biggest market. By way of explanation on some titles, many films at Berlin will have already pre-sold rights abroad, making difficult Netflix’s now favored global exclusive buys. If Amazon is looking to release 12-15 movies a year in the U.S. theaters – sometimes with as much as 90-day theatrical-to-VOD windows — just from releases announced it has closed most of those slots for 2016.

“Netflix is a special case as they have a broader worldwide presence. Amazon, Hulu and Yahoo are still focused on U.S. markets,” said Ivan Boeing, at Brazil’s Imagem. At Berlin, sales agents sell movies to the world.

But Netflix will still have done a ton of business. Two large questions remain, however: Is Netflix just creaming off the top when it comes to first-run foreign titles? And, save for indie tentpoles such as “The Hateful Eight,” are movies even Netflix’s core business?

“Netflix is having a real success with its series and local productions, not necessarily big Hollywood films,” Boeing opined.

Time will confirm the streaming giant’s priorities.

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