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IFFAM: Disruption Assumptions Challenged at Industry Forum

What a difference a year makes. At the 2017 Industry Forum, part of the International Film Festival and Awards Macao, executives had concluded that disruptors to traditional models of distribution, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, are temporary, while film is forever.

Only 12 months later, two of the three topics discussed at the same forum took the disruption as granted and real, and moved forward into discussion. One of the key thoughts expressed in the discussions was that the film industry is in flux and forward visibility is no more than six months.

While no one announced the death of film at this year’s forum, a topic of discussion was whether film makers benefit from the disruption caused by content-hungry SVoD players. The table host for these sessions was Bobby Allen, senior VP, content, at SVOD player Mubi.

Simultaneously, sessions hosted by Fred Tsui, GM and head of sales & international production at Hong Kong’s Media Asia, took a look at the realities facing independent film distribution today.

In parallel, the effects and aftermath of the near-global box office theatrical success of “Crazy Rich Asians” was discussed at sessions hosted by Samuel Jamier, executive director at the New York Asian Film Festival.

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Nine hotly debated 40-minute sessions took place on Monday, attended by a plethora of global buyers, sellers, agents, festivals and distributors. The sessions were held behind closed doors, in order for the participants to engage in a free and frank exchange of views.

The results of these sessions were collated and presented to the public in the form of a panel discussion. The summing up session was moderated by Variety correspondent Naman Ramachandran.

Allen’s sessions concluded that exhibitors would continue to agitate against the growing influence of SVoD platforms. But they would also strive to make cinema-going a premium experience, with luxury seats, state of the art sound, and extra concessions. However, this could result in a corresponding rise in ticket prices. Speaking about the consumer experience, the sessions postulated that once the dust settles, end users would choose a select bouquet of platforms, depending on taste, while the smaller ones could fall by the wayside.

Tsui’s sessions debated whether one of the big film markets should cease operating and the one name that emerged from his practitioners was the American Film Market. A slowdown in the use of expensive market screenings may lead to their cessation. For art-house distribution, the single biggest takeaway is that the sector is returning to a star system where only globally known actors or directors will get a theatrical look in. The example cited the most was Hirokazu Kore-eda’s and his recent Cannes Palme d’Or-winning “Shoplifters.”

Jamier’s sessions acknowledged that the theatrical box office success of “Crazy Rich Asians” has indeed opened a door for Asian actors and Asian-themed cinema, at least in the U.S. and parts of the western world. But it also noted the film’s cool reception in other major territories including China, Japan, Germany, France and Italy.

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