The HFM discusses arthouse film commercialisation
by Vitor Pinto
- A panel at the Dutch event gathered professionals from the UK’s Curzon, France’s Backup Media Group and online platform MUBI
The third day of the 2016 Holland Film Meeting (HFM) hosted a panel focused on the commercialisation of arthouse projects. The theme may come up time and again, but it is particularly significant these days, given the weakening situation of indie and foreign-language films across Europe. The latest proof of this can be seen in the recent shutdowns of arthouse-driven companies like Fortissimo Films (read more) and the fact that 2015 saw only one non-English-language film hit the top 20 across the European Union (the German comedy Suck Me Shakespeer 2 [+see also:
film profile]). And all of this is taking place against a backdrop of the general fragmentation of the entertainment industry, the financial crisis, the decline of the DVD market, piracy and the implementation of VoD platforms.
Moderated by Uzma Hasan from the UK’s Little House Productions, the panel brought together Claire Beswick (the UK’s Curzon Cinemas), Bobby Allen (VoD platform MUBI) and Jean-Baptiste Babin (France’s Backup Media Group).
Beswick shared her experience of distributing and exhibiting the Oscar-nominated drama 45 Years [+see also:
Q&A: Andrew Haigh
film profile] in the UK, in accordance with a day-and-date strategy: the film was released simultaneously online and at 68 venues across the country. 100% of the revenue was kept within the group. Still, 45 Years was an English-language title; non-English movies are tougher to market, but there are nevertheless success stories, like Pedro Almodóvar’s latest feature, Julieta [+see also:
Q&A: Pedro Almodóvar
film profile], which has just exceeded £1.2 million at the British box office. Beswick confessed, however, that it was difficult to put together an effective audience-development strategy for the film outside London: “Curation is always a challenge outside a capital or outside of the key cities.”
Allen asserted MUBI’s commitment to building online audiences for non-English titles. “Our marketing department is constantly telling us that we need more English-language titles, but interesting indie English-language films are simply not there.” MUBI’s online line-up is mainly composed of indie titles presented at A-class festivals, but the company is also moving towards theatrical distribution in the UK and the US. The strategy will be a different one from day-and-date: “We intend to release our films in six (up to a maximum of 12) theatres, and then they will be available online for 30 days.”
According to Babin, the polarisation in production budgets that we are witnessing in the US is being partially replicated in Europe. “The market is harsher, people need to adapt, and as a result, budgets are shrinking.” Although supportive of language diversity (“I certainly won’t ask Moretti to shoot in English!”), Babin underlined that over and above a certain production investment, one needs “to play the game and hire an English-speaking cast”, and referred to the Venice competition entry Brimstone [+see also:
Q&A: Martin Koolhoven
film profile], a Dutch production directed by Martin Koolhoven and starring US actors Dakota Fanning and Guy Pierce, as an example.
The market is currently going through a phase that Babin and Allen described as a “messy middle stage” – a moment of transition leading to the current fragmentation that necessitates the implementation of inventive and innovative release strategies. Creativity and daring are probably the keys to a less messy, more stable and more fruitful period for Europe’s film industry. “Ideally,” concluded Beswick, “one should be able to build such a strong brand that audiences could go to a theatre without knowing what they were going to see, simply because they trust you.”