The pandemic, although disastrous for most parts of the economy, had one minor upside: a boost in online viewing. The number of subscribers of Portugal’s VOD platform Filmin, for example, has tripled compared with last year, due in part to the lockdown. “We grew as much in three months as we forecast for two years,” Filmin Portugal manager Anette Dujisin told Variety. Classic films have played a major part in driving that growth.
Despite challenges with local classics, Filmin is seeing growing success with heritage films and catalog titles as well as new releases. Filmin has received constant requests from subscribers – even loud demands from some – for more classic films since the service went online in 2016, Dujisin said.
The feedback affirms “that a VOD platform dedicated to independent cinema is not complete without a certain body of classical films,” Dujisin said. “So since the beginning we have been making efforts to bring classic films onto the platform.”
Filmin largely depends on local distributors, which provide 95% of its library.
“Up until our partnership with Paulo Branco’s distribution company Leopardo Filmes, we were actually very poor in classic films,” Dujisin explained. “It was through his catalog and his work with classic films that we managed to increase our classic film catalog.”
Filmin now has a channel exclusively dedicated to classic films thanks to its partnership with Leopardo.
“We are also increasing our collaboration directly with international distributors together with Filmin Spain in order to broaden our classic film catalog,” she added.
Filmin has also managed to repurpose catalog titles, giving them new life by organizing thematic collections and having dedicated channels for Portuguese cinema, documentaries, kids’ content and short films, Dujisin noted.
“We often follow current affairs, and an older film that speaks about an issue that becomes relevant today will regain its visibility and importance,” she added.
Case in point: Raoul Peck’s James Baldwin documentary “I Am Not Your Negro,” which became the most watched film for weeks in a row in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in June that followed the killing of George Floyd in the U.S.
Filmin organizes its classic films according to filmmakers and countries. Such showcases work even better when accompanied by in-depth information that can guide users through specific filmographies, according to Dujisin.
One of Filmin’s major goals is to become a premier gateway to Portuguese cinema. The platform offers a channel dedicated to domestic films. It’s building a catalog that includes works by such contemporary filmmakers as Pedro Costa (“Vitalina Varela”), Miguel Gomes (“Our Beloved Month of August”); Fernando Lopes (“Twist of Fate”); João Botelho (“Os Maias”); Pedro Pinho (“The Nothing Factory”); Marco Martins (“Saint George”); João Salaviza (“The Dead and the Others”); and Pedro Cabeleira (“Damned Summer”).
When it comes to older classic Portuguese films, however, Filmin faces a challenge due to its lack of access to major libraries, Dujisin explained.
“It’s a real problem, and we are in a kind of impasse. The problem is not the digitization of copies, but rather the rights owners.”
In some cases, Filmin has managed to acquire films through collaborations with distributors. It recently released six films by José Fonseca e Costa after partnering with Alambique Filmes, which purchased the rights of some of the filmmaker’s older and most popular films from his family.
In other cases, it’s more complicated. Most of the rights for the works of João César Monteiro and Manoel de Oliveira, for example, are with Portuguese media group NOS, which itself owns pay TV and OTT services and cinemas and does not collaborate with smaller VOD platforms like Filmin, Dujisin said. At the same time, it’s not actively exploiting those older titles, so they are virtually inaccessible, she added.
Other classic Portuguese films are with the National Film and Audiovisual Institute (ICA), which likewise does not collaborate with Filmin, according to Dujisin.
Filmin is in discussions with the Portuguese Cinematheque, however, which has its own library and is developing its own VOD platform.
“We are of course still trying to continue this dialogue in the hope that this mistrust over VOD will start dissipating and we will also be able to include classic Portuguese films in our catalog,” Dujisin stressed.
Filmin has had much more luck with newer releases, such as João Nuno Pinto’s “Mosquito,” which opened this year’s Rotterdam Film Festival. Filmin released the acclaimed war drama to great success after its theatrical run was cut short by the pandemic.
Filmin’s other popular titles have included Christophe Honoré’s “On a Magical Night”; Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters”; and Seamus Murphy’s PJ Harvey documentary “A Dog Called Money.”
Filmin’s most watched classic titles currently include six restored Federico Fellini titles, among them “8½,” and the works of Luis Buñuel, such as “Viridiana.” Filmin is releasing two more sets of Buñuel’s films in October.
Wim Wenders’ films, including “Paris, Texas,” have also performed extremely well, as have the complete works of Jacques Tati.
The platform is releasing seven films by Akira Kurosawa in December and planning to release works by Jean Renoir and Alain Resnais in 2021 along with other titles.