A group of roughly 60 prominent European independent film industry execs assembled Thursday at the Locarno Festival in Switzerland to thrash out some of the pressing issues they are facing as they scramble to contend with the disruptive effect of giant global streaming platforms. Following the recent controversy in Cannes over Netflix’s stringent theatrical release policy, Locarno’s StepIn think tank provided a forum to take the discussion to a more constructive level. StepIn also offered a glimpse into future developments of a complex, constantly evolving scenario. These are five takeaways that surfaced, most of which about Netflix, which dominated the conversation, though no Netflix exec attended.
1. Apple is joining the fray.
“We are certainly seeing Apple coming in [as a buyer] at the documentary level,” said Focus Features president Robert Walak, who was one of the keynote speakers. “It will be interesting to see what will happen at the Toronto Film Festival; whether Apple will come on board as a disruptor during that festival,” he added.
2. Will Netflix Follow Amazon’s lead and go into theatrical?
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“I would be very surprised if Netflix doesn’t go into theatrical distribution,” Walak noted. “I think that’s probably going to be the next step that we see from them. The appointment of Scott Stuber [Head of Original Films at Netflix] signals that. I think that in a year or two from now there will be a different attitude [towards theatrical] from Netflix. We certainly see that in terms of the movies they are going after, which is different from what they were going after before.”
3. Is Netflix’s attitude towards festivals changing?
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema founder and CEO Tim League (also a keynote speaker) who has been critical of Netflix in the past, said it might. “I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule in terms of how Netflix is evolving in terms of its relationship with festivals,” he said. “They are holding tight because they value the exclusive nature of the Netflix berth, but I think that’s going to shift. I see it happening already. On the festival side, at Fantastic Fest [which he runs] we were approached by a new team from Netflix about upcoming genre films that they thought were good for Fantastic Fest. That’s never happened before.
4. Anti-Netflix sentiment among international indies is still brewing and the sticking points remain its attitude towards theatrical and film festivals, and the fact that it doesn’t provide viewership data.
“We are against Netflix being able to put their films in competition at A-list film festivals,” said TrustNordisk head of sales Susan Wendt. As sales agents, we need those competition slots in order to sell our movies and put them in movie theatres. Why have a film in the competition that does not need that? The fact that when Netflix buys art movies in Europe they try to limit that film’s festival exposure was also bemoaned “because this is a cultural loss for the public and also for the filmmaker,” said Mexican producer Jaime Romandia at Mantarraya, who added: ”Netflix is usually not providing any [viewership] data, and this is disrupting the way we value films and filmmakers.”
5. Will content for self-driving cars be the next new content craze?
Bobby Allen, VP of Content at MUBI, the curated streaming platform available in more than 200 territories, who was the third keynote, said he was at a film think tank recently where he met “a guy who is now the head of a new department in Audi — very, very senior — who reports directly to the CEO of Audi. His job is to figure out what content people are going to watch in their cars when all cars will be self-driving, ten years from now.”
“That was the thing that really blew me away! You start to think about this evolution of accessing content with different screens and systems; the future of how you expose and monetise and create an audience for your film is really kind of open and endless, and really very exciting.”