A question of survival
by Birgit Heidsiek
- CANNES 2014: At the Directors’ Assembly at the Directors’ Fortnight, independent filmmakers and producers talked about the struggle they face to finance and distribute their movies
Despite a lot of new opportunities in the digital era to raise film financing and release films on various platforms, the production and distribution of independent movies has not become easier. “A lot of films don’t make money,” stated Danish director Lone Scherfig (Italian for Beginners, An Education [+see also:
film profile]) at the Directors’ Assembly at the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, which this year focused on the topic of “What do filmmakers want for tomorrow’s Europe?”. “It is a burden for the producers to take care of films when they don’t make any money,” she continued.
As the renowned writer/director Walter Salles (Central Station, The Motorcycle Diaries [+see also:
film profile]) described, arthouse films are in jeopardy in Brazil. “The history of Brazilian cinema is a story of constant rebirth,” he reported. Due to the market dominance of Hollywood productions in Brazil, it was necessary to reinvent a way to show national films. “In 1989, Brazil went through a terrible crisis,” explained the director. “For five years, we didn’t produce any movies.” In 1994, Brazil also started a public film fund. “We needed a reflection of our own culture on our screens – cinema is the best way to do that.”
Salles is convinced that an artistic gamble can pay off. “A lot of Brazilian filmmakers are making comedies. But will they have a future?” He believes that public film support is the best solution. “The Americans are in a different ball game,” says the filmmaker. But in addition, financing via crowdfunding is becoming more common. Furthermore, Brazil is facing the problem of illegal distribution. “There is piracy online as well as on the street,” underlined Salles. “We need to find a way to keep arthouse cinemas alive.” But it is also essential to have a platform in order to deal with new media. “The problem of piracy is not that the people don’t want to pay. The problem is getting access to the movies that they want to see.”
The situation for arthouse cinema is even more dramatic in Spain because there is a lot of online piracy. Over the last ten years, the number of cinema admissions dropped from 100 million per year to 70 million. “We have to do something about it,” underlined award-winning Spanish director Pablo Berger (Blancanieves [+see also:
interview: Pablo Berger
film profile]). “We are losing our audience – in the cinemas and even on TV.” One of the main reasons for the crisis is that VAT for entertainment events has been raised from 8% to 22% in Spain. “That was a killer for cinema.”
Even in France, distribution of arthouse movies is getting more and more difficult. “The public want to see small films only on VoD,” explained French filmmaker Christophe Ruggia (The Devils). “Each week, there are 20 films released in France.” The result of this high output is a quick rotation. “What can you do if your film is taken off the screen after one or two weeks?” asked the director. “We have to find a solution because it is a question of survival.”
The filmmaker thinks it is important to maintain the theatrical window of three months after the launch of a film in order to protect the formats. “But what do I have to protect when my movie is thrown off after two weeks?” he questioned. “It is important for me that my movie can be seen in another way because I don’t have the money to do a second campaign three months later.” In France, there is also a battle going on with French television with regard to the media chronology of pay TV, DVD, VoD and free TV. As a new player, Netflix will start a VoD platform in France in September, which might become a game changer. “France 2 and Canal Plus are fighting to stop that in order to protect the system.”
The filmmakers agreed on the fact that a film has a better chance if it is released theatrically. “It is essential to discover a film on the screen,” summed up Salles. “Your favourite films are the ones you have seen in the cinema,” remarked Scherfig. “The children who grow up today will download films from the internet,” underlined Hungarian director Ágnes Kocsis (Magyarország 2011). “Kids need the cinema experience. Therefore, it is important to offer school programmes for children which are supported by Creative Europe.”
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.