Distribution in the Baltic and CIS countries: Face to face with a giant
by David González
- Business in the former USSR countries was at the centre of a panel hosted by Black Nights' Industry@Tallinn, accompanying the inaugural Sales Agents and Distributors Meeting Point
Industry@Tallinn, the Black Nights Film Festival's industry section, is holding the first edition of the Sales Agents and Distributors Meeting Point this year. Taking place on 17 November, the event brought together up to 50 companies to network, see new titles and do business in Tallinn. The highlight of the initiative was, nonetheless, a panel on film distribution and sales in the Baltic and the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States, largely former USSR countries), which aimed to give an overview of the challenging issues of theatrical distribution in these two fast-changing markets. A-One Films (Russia) head of acquistions and CEO Daniel Goroshko, Prior Entertainment head of acquisitions Robertas Stukas, Must Käsi/Black Hand head of acquisitions and programmer Tiina Savi, Estonian Film Institute head of marketing Eda Koppel and Black Nights Film Festival director Tiina Lokk took part in the panel.
The Baltic countries (especially Estonia) have recently seen an increase in business with new buyers, distributors and screening venues, and the CIS countries are undergoing a change: the previously Moscow-centred distribution system is being matched by local and regional distributors. Koppel's overview of the Baltic industry highlighted the number of films distributed in the last year (243 in Estonia, 219 in Latvia and 187 in Lithuania), as well as the number of distributors and companies present in each country (18 in Estonia, nine in Latvia and 21 in Lithuania).
Goroshko, who provided one of the Russian summaries, stressed the fact that there are only eight or nine independent distributors, as it has become hard to specify – they are closing down due to business changes and the presence of major American studio branches – for such a huge territory. “The sales agent interested in the territory has to keep in mind that some countries have a very low demand: Ukraine is a big market, Kazakhstan is a growing one, Belarus is a good one, but prices are very cheap and therefore the revenues very small...” As for European films distributed in the theatres, Russia can count 11 titles per year.
“Estonia is the best market for European movies in the Baltic countries,” assured Stukas. “The country has very strong arthouse cinemas, as opposed to Latvia, where business results are not that good, and Lithuania, which comes in the middle.” Savi, also the owner of an arthouse cinema in Tallinn, Kino Sõprus, explained that “multiplex cinemas also screen some arthouse films, which we are grateful for because of the visibility increase, even if they don't do that well”.
However, there seems to be a gap between Russian and European cinema when it comes to theatrical distribution. “We don't usually buy Russian films, because of political reasons,” explained Stukas, while Savi said, “We have only released two so far, and they were not very successful.” On the other hand, Goroshko contributed, “In Russia, everything that is not American automatically becomes arthouse. Moreover, within those, only European films from the UK, France, Italy and Spain seem to work.”
Russia is also experiencing a surprising trend, compared to the rest of the European countries: audiences are not ageing - on the contrary. “Our audiences are getting younger and younger because of sociopolitical reasons – old people cannot afford this kind of thing because of their lower economic possibilities,” said Goroshko. “In Estonia this is starting to show as well. We are targeting younger audiences, mostly through online marketing,” continued Savi.
However, all of the participants agreed on the importance of sales agents taking great care when marketing a film for the territory. Goroshko explained, “Theatres become more interested in your film the better you treat it – marketing, campaigns, festivals, etc. It all helps.”