Though the U.S. specialty theatrical market remains stagnant for the foreseeable future, two of the leading buyers of international art-house fare want to send a message to their French partners: We’re still here, and we’re looking to pick up.
“As a very bullish, supportive and embracing distributor we’ll continue to acquire films,” says Charles S. Cohen, whose Cohen Media Group remains the foremost distributor of French cinema in the U.S. “We’re committed,” he adds, “[but] we’re frustrated, just like everyone else.”
Over the past year, Cohen Media Group – which also owns art-house chains Landmark Theaters in the U.S. and Curzon in the U.K. – has had to sit on a number of French titles while waiting for theaters in New York and Los Angeles to reopen, but has still continued to buy.
In June, it picked up Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh’s “Gagarine” as well as Fernando Trueba’s International Oscar contender “Forgotten We’ll Be” at the virtual Cannes Marché du Film, adding those Cannes-approved titles to several more titles waiting for the chance to open.
“Of the 10 films we have awaiting release, the majority are French,” says Cohen. “We have a lot of pent up supply.”
For now, Cohen Media will sit on that supply, opting not to release those titles directly onto its eponymous SVOD platform before giving them a shot in theaters.
“Cohen Media Channel is a great arrow in our quiver,” explains Robert Aaronson, Cohen Media senior VP. “[Only] it’s not meant to be a first window, so as far as exclusive premieres go, we have not considered it.”
“We feel the audience for our films is theatrically driven,” Aaronson continues. “We’re taking a beat until we can launch theatrical campaigns, at which point the wheels will start turning in terms of marketing and publicizing.”
“We have a slate of films that we’re gearing up to release on a regular schedule once the theaters open back up,” he adds. “But we’re still always hungry and aggressive. We are still looking to acquire. We’re in the film distribution business, and we have to stay current.”
And what are these buyers looking for?
“We’re looking out for the same things as always,” says Brian Andreotti, head of acquisitions at Music Box Films. “Titles from established directors that have reputations in the U.S., cast with recognizable names, and likely to benefit from a strong critical response.”
“We’ll still be looking for those characteristics, but we’ll be most concerned with fitting it into a release schedule that at this point is very much in flux,” Andreotti continues. “I think we’ll be more cautious just in the number of films that we’ll acquire… [but] we’ll be actively looking now and during Sundance and during EFM.”
Once circumstances permit, Music Box is planning to give Francois Ozon’s “Summer of 85,” which the distributor picked up out of Cannes, a full on theatrical push, but is also not adverse to other release strategies.
“Right now we’re looking for films that we can acquire and release with a collapsed window and a virtual component,” says Andreotti. “Films we can make work regardless of what the future holds.”
Though that does somewhat change Music Box’s acquisition criteria.
“For those collapsed windows, we’re looking for films that would skew younger,” he adds. “Things like genre films that can sell themselves based on an intriguing premise. We’re less likely to pick up a film and release it within a collapsed window if we think it primarily appeals to an older, traditional art-house demographic.”