While the coronavirus pandemic has been good for independent film sales to content-hungry streamers, this year’s string of canceled festivals may lead to a “lost generation” of filmmakers, Pablo Larrain, director of Oscar-nominated films “No” and “Jackie,” has warned.
Speaking in a Cannes Film Market online conversation with Efe Cakarel, CEO of arthouse streaming service MUBI, the Chilean filmmaker expressed concern that some of the features destined for their 2020 premiere will now fall through the cracks.
“Those movies that were meant to be in those festivals have lost something because the festival couldn’t exist and that is very sad. It’s like a lost generation somehow,” he said.
“Most will get to theaters and platforms – but there’s something that we’ve lost and will never recover. We need to live with that. It’s a sad story. I hope we get to learn from it and react better if there is another pandemic,” he added.
While the Cannes 2020 Selection – announced in early June – lends the 56 films selected with the prestigious Cannes label – without a physical event to launch from, the director argued that their future was still far from certain.
Cakarel agreed that a film’s physical premiere at Cannes was an important part of its journey. “It sets you up for a lot of things that happen after that in terms of distribution, press and buzz, and there are a number of films that will now, for various reasons, miss that moment,” he said.
While many titles in the Cannes 2020 Selection are set to appear in other international festivals with a Cannes label, it remains unclear, as yet, which ones these will be, and when they are likely to happen.
Cakarel also pointed out that some of this year’s buzziest arthouse and indie titles that were predicated to play in the festival but were not included in the Official Selection – including Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Colombia-shot, Tilda Swinton-fronted feature “Memoria” – may now premiere elsewhere.
“In normal circumstances ‘Memoria’ would have been playing in competition in Cannes for sure – and it would have been amazing,” Cakarel said, adding that there was now talk of the film making its debut in Cannes 2021.
However, Larrain argued that postponements and Cannes-labeled premieres at other festivals would not solve the backlog of films looking for a platform. Some, he added, would invariably miss out.
“Cannes usually takes in 60 movies – if some of these go to the following festival in 2021 then the movies that were supposed to be in that slot miss out. There’s still a generation of movies that are going to be hurt,” said Larrain.
And yet from a streamer’s perspective, the pandemic has been good for foreign-language cinema.
Cakarel revealed that, compared with this time last year, MUBI subscribers are currently watching 300% more films on his curated streaming service, which works on constant rotation of 30 arthouse titles.
“The data reveals a hunger for great cinema and great entertainment. People have a lot more time at home in lockdown and are getting pretty bored very quickly with the Netflix experience – they are starting to search for more interesting content,” he said.
Larrain added that he has been able to sell some of his back catalog to streamers during the pandemic – something that previously he would “never have thought possible.”
Cakarel said that the challenge now was to develop and hone smart referral discovery systems and algorithms to enable viewers to find the film Mubi thinks everyone needs to see.
Both men also talked about the impact that the pandemic is causing to production, which they agreed would take longer and incur more expenses with lockdown postponements and on set health and safety regulations.
Cakarel’s company – also an investor and producer of films – has a number of titles in development. “We’re revising budgets upwards because of the current environment. Costs are going to be higher,” he said.
Larrain added that his shoot for Apple TV’s Stephen King-penned series “Lisey’s Story” produced through Bad Robot for Warner Bros. and starring Julianne Moore, was forced to close down after a six-month shoot.
“We had a few weeks left but we had to stop – we don’t have any clarity yet on whether we will be able to resume – things are changing all the time,” Larrain added.