IFFR Reality Check: Where do films go after production?
by Vassilis Economou
- The future of the distribution of arthouse fare was one of the central topics of the IFFR PRO industry programme, which attempted to discover if there is life after film festivals
The International Film Festival Rotterdam is accustomed to interconnecting its different sections, as with IFFR Live and the Unleashed VoD platform. The industry programme of IFFR PRO has also been merged with the IFFR Live activities and, with the support of Creative Europe, organised Reality Check, a two-day conference (28-29 January) focusing on the future of film distribution.
IFFR director Bero Beyer opened the conference on the first day with his initial remarks, which seemed rather pessimistic towards the future of arthouse cinema, presenting an almost dystopian wasteland as his vision for the coming 20 years. Despite the initial shock, the positive aspect to come out of this is that we still have time to adjust and evolve. In her remarks, the head of IFFR PRO, Marit Van Den Elshout, focused on the importance of innovation and new initiatives beyond the traditional schemes, taking IFFR’s Propellor Film Tech Hub (see the news) as an example. Finally, in her keynote speech, Daniela Elstner of Doc & Film International expressed her belief that things can still successfully be adapted without following the prevailing scheme of a business-orientated aggregating machine. If the market is able to hear and trust the signals that the artists are sending out, then we can build new houses that will welcome art.
With curation undoubtedly being a key issue, the Curation 360° panel made no attempt to hide the outcomes of their experience and research. Even if the main target audience for arthouse films is fallaciously “50-year-old ladies who drink cappuccinos”, it has been discovered that there are more dynamic niches that can drive the content and hence the curation of it. Of course, the market is already saturated, as David Grumbach, CEO of BAC Films, mentioned, with some worrying data to back up his point. In Europe alone, 1,700 films are produced each year - but still, the share that they have secured in the European market is only 25%, with an audience that avoids visiting the cinemas. A similar case is also visible in the Dutch market: as Babette Wijntjes, CEO of Cinemien, sees each year, films with high expectations behind them are seeing falls in attendance levels, as proven by the research. Undoubtedly, the model has to change, but the question still remains: where can films live?
Representing the IFFR itself, Melissa van der Schoor, content manager of IFFR Unleashed, explored the advantages of its branded VoD platform for arthouse cinema (see the interview), while Dan Schoenbrun (The Eyeslicer) shared his own experience of working with provocative and diverse US creators that manage to entice the audience to special events and banish the former style of cinema experience. A specialised and niche-driven market, which saved the music industry when CDs became obsolete and the core of the market was headed towards live concerts and vinyl collection, could be a realistic solution, according to Bobby Allen, senior vice-president of content at MUBI. Making the content more specialised with a curated and realistic approach, without using the algorithmic approach that Netflix or Amazon introduced and which seems to work for now, could give a much-needed degree of specialisation to an audience that still demands access to more personalised content.
The opening up of the market to a wider array of players could possibly offer this segmentation, although obstacles are still there, as the Shifting Sands panel revealed. Helena Danielsson, producer at Brain Academy, mentioned the importance of finding new voices, which is more important than creating one single market and focusing on adapting the stories to the appropriate audience. This closer relationship forged between the content provider/producer and the consumer is the key element for Uzma Hasan, of Little House Productions, as subversive stories can literally be aimed at a global audience. Versatility is also key for Bertrand Faivre, of Le Bureau/The Bureau, as standardising everything to follow one and the same model may seem appealing, but more films will travel better under competitive conditions. Inevitably, the debate drifted towards the elephant in the room: the services provided by Netflix and Amazon. Most of the panellists mentioned their worries about the impact that these VoD services are having, especially in a global, borderless market. It is impossible for them to make data-driven choices as creators of content, since they don’t have access to these data, making it akin to gambling.
Certainly, the impact that Amazon and Netflix have on the US indie market is completely different compared to the European one. Representing one of the main funding bodies, Enrico Vannucci, deputy executive director of Eurimages, offered an overview of the solid legal framework that governs the cooperation between 38 different film institutions. The differences in policies, which need to evolve and move closer to current trends, also currently poses an obstacle to the possibility of having a European VoD player, as the copyright market is still segmented into territories. Finally, panel moderator Isabel Davis, head of international at the BFI, mentioned that Brexit would not affect the relationships that the UK market has with the rest of Europe, and despite all the upcoming changes, the aim is to continue being a participating member of the Creative Europe programme.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.