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Five Takeaways on Survival of Indies in Post-Pandemic Landscape From Locarno’s StepIn Webinars

Locarno StepIN
Courtesy StepIN

Keep your budgets low and have faith in the resilience of arthouse cinema and theaters, film festivals and markets. But also be ready to engage with streamers that could become an integral part of new indie business models in the post-pandemic landscape.

Those were some of the upbeat tips that surfaced from the Locarno Film Festival’s StepIn industry think tank, where film industry operators who form the core of Europe’s indie ecosystem come together to trash out the most pressing issues they are contending with. StepIn went online this year due to the pandemic with webinars on the future of the theatrical experience, production, film festivals and markets.

The three sessions — moderated by Variety journalists and hosted by the Variety Streaming Room platform  streamed Aug. 5, 6 and 7.

Here are five takeaways from the sessions:

1. Keep budgets low

Brazilian producer Rodrigo Teixeira, who has been instrumental in bringing to the screen films such as “Call Me by Your Name” and “Ad Astra,” warned against the danger to filmmakers posed by “big streamers coming in and full financing a movie” because “depending who you are” that can mean “completely losing” your creative freedom. The best way to not capitulate? Make self-financed indie movies on smaller budgets. “If we push the budgets down” we will survive,” at least “in the beginning,” Teixeira said. 

2. Don’t lose faith in people’s appetite for indie cinema

Neon president of distribution, Elissa Federoff, has faith that audiences still want indie movies. “We know they’re hungry for genre, for an arthouse film, for a period film, for whatever,” she said. “I don’t think that the United States needs a ‘Tenet’ for people to come to movie theaters. I think that they need something that is original and exciting. And that’s all they need; it doesn’t need to be something massive; it needs to be something that speaks to them.”

3. Online film markets can open up new avenues 

Cannes Film Market director Jérôme Paillard noted that roughly 20% of participants in this year’s online market were “new participants” that had not attended Cannes in the past five years. Interestingly, in general the numbers (screenings and admissions) this year were close to those of the market’s physical editions. So will the Cannes market go hybrid next year? Not necessarily. But Paillard did say he is looking at how to use “experimental tools, and see how we can combine all of them.”

4. Festivals are  burying the hatchets and joining forces to help filmmakers

Venice Film Festival artistic director Alberto Barbera vowed that festivals are there to support the global film community more than ever. “In the past – especially in the last let’s say eight, 10 years – the competition between most festivals was really becoming a bit too much,” Barbera said. But now festivals have understood that their main purpose is not “to support theirs own ego or image or identity, or whatever,” he noted. “We are here to serve the filmmakers, to help promote films.” Therefore “It’s extremely important that the collaboration (between festivals) becomes something that we share as a common experience as a common tool, as a way to be better at doing our job.” 

5. Don’t demonize the streamers

“The streamers will do what the streamers do,” said Film4 director Daniel Battsek. He went on to point out that platforms such as Netflix are not “the big bad wolf.” Why? “because in many ways they’ve created a vanguard for certain types of filmmaking and turned audiences onto certain types of (indie) filmmaking” such as documentaries and foreign-language films with subtitles. Battsek sees a landscape that, yes, “is hugely challenging” with “all these powerful behemoths.” But there have always been “huge stumbling blocks” for independent film. So “it’s just a case now of taking advantage of what we know and what we’re able to do.”