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During the Torino Film Festival, the Circolo dei Lettori hosted a panel discussion on the future of arthouse cinema, moderated by Torino Film Lab’s head of studies, Francesco Giai Via. The event saw the participation of Israeli producer and TFL mentor Eilon Ratzkovsky (“7 Days in Entebbe”), and Andrea Romeo, CEO of Bologna-based production and distribution outfit I Wonder Pictures.

Giai Via and Ratzkovsky reflected on how, despite their great efforts on 200 movies so that they are “in shape before they meet the viewers,” it is still difficult to imagine a target audience during the development and financing stages.

Giai Via said: “[Therefore,] we started working on audience design. […] There’s nothing wrong in imagining your ‘interlocutor’ when you’re making a film. And it doesn’t mean producers and directors should bend to the market rules.”

Ratzkovsky said many films are still made “by the filmmakers themselves for themselves.” He explained how audience design came way before Netflix’s algorithm as it is “about identifying who would watch the film, and not necessarily who would go to the cinema and pay their ticket.

“It has nothing to do with marketing and distribution. […] Why am I doing this [movie]? With audience design, we try to understand this and see if the script can reach the audience a bit more. But it’s a really tiny [work].

“I was one of the first to have a film taking part in an audience design study. In my case, I [already] had a rough cut and not the script. I sat down with some experts and we identified a group of people who might see the film all over the world. […] At the end of the day, they were 99.9% right. The audience who came to see it at the festival was the one they identified.

“However, a different thing is to understand how to market it outside of the festivals. I must admit, that’s been quite difficult. […] It wasn’t so successful for us, but I know others who have done extremely well.”

In his contribution, Romeo explained how he has been doing – for many years – “the wrong thing in a market where everyone does the right thing.” In 2021, I Wonder Pictures was enjoying a very lucky year with successful titles such as “Titane,” “Annette” and “Alcarràs.” This year, Romeo’s business brought to Venice 12 films, including “The Whale,” and later bought one more, Laura Poitras’ “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed.”

“We decided to throw €1 million [$1.04 million] out of the window. [We thought:] Let’s make an investment against I Wonder! We created a new label. As I Wonder was gaining access to more and more important titles, we took the opposite direction, by making smaller films which need much work and a lot of care.”

Romeo has launched the Arthouse label, which is present with four titles at the Torino Film Festival. Although “arthouse” is a bad word among sales agents, Romeo argued, his team decided to proudly work on these movies driven by their passion and the idea that there is still room to serve “the other four courses.”

He compared the state of things to four restaurants serving five main courses for workers during their lunch break. In each of them, the managers notice that one course is particularly popular, fast to serve, and with good profit margins.

The risk is that, sooner or later, the four restaurants will begin serving only the most successful course, with the others disappearing from the menu. Arthouse’s slate includes indie titles such as “Wild Men,” “Boiling Point,” “Eo,” “Girl Girl Girl,” “Nitram” and “Metronom.”

Without mincing words, Romeo defined the relationship with exhibitors as “poor”. “And it’s always been so, they’re never happy. […] It’s useless to think about making them happier. It’s a relationship made of challenges and pain but, by living it with awareness, we managed to ‘find’ and ‘impose’ a dialogue. Besides, exhibition is not free at all in this country. Theaters can’t program independently, we’re backwards in terms of technology. Cinetel gives us the best data insights in Europe, but we don’t use them.”

“The figures clearly show that cinemas need to be programmed differently, but we keep on doing the same as it was prior to COVID… […] Now the real problem is exhibition.”

Romeo also pointed out that smaller, innovative cinemas such as Milan’s Beltrade and Rome’s Cinema Troisi are doing things their own way and emerging as market disruptors, achieving the best results among one-screen cinemas.

On the topic of marketing, Romeo said: “It’s as if the audience has changed deeply, they feel the ‘coolness’ of a movie.” In particular, he mentioned the example of “My Neighbor Adolf,” which he considers a rather “old-fashioned” title and didn’t perform very well owing to this lack of ‘coolness.’ These movies, however, may record better results on TV slots, he added.