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European Digital Initiatives Offer New Paths for Distributing Indie Films

Catherine Deneuve's 'The Midwife' benefited from the Walk This Way initiative

Hope springs eternal among independent film and documentary producers, and several new European initiatives for distributing their work – all wholly or in part supported by Creative Europe, the European Commission’s cultural and audiovisual support program – were presented at the session Innovative Examples of Film Distribution in Europe on Monday afternoon at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival.

Philipp Hoffmann of the European Cinema and VOD Initiative (ECVI) described a program whereby theatrical exhibitors can gain revenues in the digital on-demand market in conjunctions with the films showing on their screens. His organization’s business model provides cinemas with a VOD program that’s specifically tailored to their customers.

Via the program, theaters get a website that sells VOD offerings that are curated in conjunction with indie films showing on their screens.

“Cinemas are natural homes for independent films,” said Hoffmann. “By offering VOD, they extend their value chain into the digital market.”

The program follows local practices with regard to the windowing rules of each territory in which it operates. Hoffmann cited the example of an offering built around Germany’s 2017 Oscar nominee “Tony Erdmann.” Although regulations didn’t allow that film to be offered on VOD, participating theaters in Germany made available the previous film of “Erdmann” director Maren Ade, “Everyone Else.” Even though it was released in 2009, curiosity about the director sparked by “Erdmann’s” success persuaded a significant number of subscribers to pay 5 Euros ($5.67) for 48 hours of access to her earlier film.

Hoffmann noted that ECVI, which tracks online the buy and rental rates in various territories that have widely varying regulations, is like a laboratory for analysis of the life cycles of films across various windowing policies, from the strictest to the most free – which happen to be in the Netherlands, where day-and-date release is allowed.

Although Hoffmann was coy about revenue splits, he allowed that ECVI shares its proceeds three ways: theater owners get about 25% to 30%, distributors get their share, and ECVI gets the rest.

Hoffmann positions the program as a way for theater owners to stay in the game. “The big question today,” said Hoffmann, “is whether cinemas will be able to participate in a massively growing digital market.”

Another initiative – Walk This Way – was presented by Vincent Lucassen, president of the Independent Pan-European Digital Association (IPEDA). Walk This Way curates films and places them onto digital platforms such as iTunes, Amazon, Microsoft and Google, said Lucassen.

The organization, which works in conjunction with more than 30 sales agents, handles legal fees, sources films, finds funds for subtitling, and provides marketing support mainly via social media for the films it moves to digital distribution. In 2016 the organization found digital placement for 44 films from 13 European Union countries. Titles included “The Midwife,” “Miss Sixty” and a collection of films grouped under the theme This Is War.

For 2017, Walk This Way has received a grant of 1.17 million Euros ($1.33 million) from Creative Europe. Its site receives many views. The challenge, says Lucassen, “is to convert clicks to sales.”

Kristyna Genttnerova and Eva Krizkova present an alternative distribution plan for documentaries. Dubbed KineDok, it strives to distribute content to unconventional, non-theatrical venues such as cafes, pubs, museums and community centers.

The venues, which must have their own projection capabilities, receive the docs for free. They can charge viewers if they want, but KineDoK gets no revenue from such exhibition and subsists entirely on funding.

Daniel Deak presented the distribution platform Daazo.com, a showcase for Euro shorts that sprang from his days as a frustrated film student who couldn’t get anyone to see his films. The online distribution platform mostly highlights short films.

Lucassen ended the session by describing SUBurbia, a subtitling initiative that uses crowdsourcing, “machine translation” and automated systems to generate subtitles for European films migrating to VOD services.

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