“There is room in an individual for both commercial and arthouse cinema”
Industry Report: Distribution, Exhibition and Streaming
Matei Truţa • Distributor, August Film
The co-founder of Romania’s youngest film distributor, which seems determined to dedicate itself to the distribution of arthouse cinema, gives us the low-down on the challenges of such an endeavour
After spending a decade in Romania’s film industry, first as a festival organiser, then as the managing director of distributor Transilvania Film and finally as a producer, Matei Truţa co-founded August Film, the country’s youngest player in the distribution market, with Andrei Agudaru. Here is what he had to say about the challenges of such an endeavour, and about the ideal relationship between cinemas, distributors and the audience.
Cineuropa: What pictures is August Film interested in?
Matei Truţa: August Film was born of nostalgia coupled with a coming-of-age process. I have been working in the industry for ten years, and I missed film distribution but had reached a point in my life where I felt the need to dedicate myself exclusively to projects that I completely believe in. We do that at August Film. We only want to bring audiences films that we find compelling, that can inspire us to be better, that can inspire us to grow. Films that we believe have the potential to make the world a better place. Films that we would recommend to the people we love, because there is nothing more personal than love. Our next releases, both expected in November, are Vlad Petri’s Between Revolutions [+see also:
interview: Vlad Petri
film profile] and Liviu Mărghidan’s The Refuge.
What is it like distributing European films in Romania?
It's a complex issue, but it's definitely not easy, and it all starts with the fact that we only have eight arthouse cinemas in the country. As a rule, the films we distribute are, in the perception of the general public, closer to a theatre performance or reading a book than to the entertainment provided by a blockbuster. The lack of screening venues is a true challenge, and distributors struggle to be relevant in multiplex venues, too. And while they often provide good viewing conditions and audience visibility, they may end up producing modest results despite colossal efforts on the part of the distributor.
How would you describe August Film’s relationship with cinemas?
It oscillates between very good and problematic. Arthouse screens are few and far between, the number of releases (both commercial and arthouse) is high, film festivals and special events take their share of the limited programming slots, and multiplexes favour commercial films. It can happen that we get turned down by multiplexes for programming or we get less-than-ideal hours for our films. And, at times, we get help and better scheduling from them than from some arthouse screens.
It must be said that multiplexes are businesses, and they have no public mandate to support European films. They favour, based on empirical analysis, good box-office figures. It should also be borne in mind that, in some cases, the upper management of such multiplexes is not even based in Romania, and sometimes their rules and operating policies are non-negotiable. It's not necessarily a question of ill will. We manage to gain support from some of them, and they remain an essential platform to enable our movies to meet the Romanian audience, but I would not venture to say that a better distribution of European films in Romania will come about primarily through the multiplexes.
In my experience, Romanian cinemagoers are quite fond of escapism. How do you attract them to more difficult, sometimes even uncomfortable, films?
I think there is room in an individual for both commercial and arthouse cinema. You attract the audience by having the courage to talk about the topics [that these difficult films tackle] and with the clarity of the promotional campaign drilling down to the essence of each title. You attract them by always stressing how necessary and relevant it is to discuss these topics. You attract them with the creativity with which you communicate these messages and, above all, with the wisdom to accept that you have chosen a long-haul goal.
What do you think about institutional support for distributors that are bold enough to invest time in smaller but necessary films?
Whether it's local or international support, it can often be a deciding factor in a distributor's decision to gamble on a so-called “difficult” title. We depend on this kind of support, given the profile of many of the films we distribute. While internationally there are support opportunities for the distribution of European titles, opportunities we sometimes have access to, locally there is only support for the distribution of domestic films, the main source being the [Romanian] National Film Center. A stronger support scheme is needed.
How do you see the ideal relationship between audiences, cinemas and distributors?
In an ideal world, we would have a much larger arthouse cinema network. Audiences would form around these venues and, why not, around a certain distributor as well. The distributor and the cinemas would work together to promote films, would exchange data transparently about their audiences and would tailor their promotion to the profile of each micro-community.
Multiplex cinemas would decide to play a more active role in promoting this type of cinema and, together with the distributor, find a way to "make room" for arthouse films as well. Audiences would understand the importance of supporting such a title on the first weekend, especially when it comes to a multiplex screen. This would organically extend the life cycle of a film in the cinema network. For the second week, the screening schedule is decided depending on the first weekend’s figures. And it's rarely more generous or welcoming than the first week's schedule.
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