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"The question isn’t just whether or not people will want to return to cinemas, but what they will want to see"

Industry Report: Film Festival Trends

Frédéric Boyer • Artistic Director, Les Arcs Film Festival


The selector for the French festival talks us through the Work in Progress sessions unfolding online between 20 - 22 January as part of the Industry Village event

Frédéric Boyer • Artistic Director, Les Arcs Film Festival

Reorganised so as to unfold entirely online and in several stages as a result of the health crisis, the 12th Les Arcs Film Festival will enter into the home straight from 20 to 22 January by way of its Industry Village, which notably includes the always much anticipated Work in Progress (WiP) event, this year boasting 17 films on the agenda (news). We met with the festival’s artistic director Frédéric Boyer (who holds similar sway in Tribeca and Reykjavik).

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Cineuropa: Has the health crisis had an impact on the volume of applications for Les Arcs’ Work in Progress event?
Frédéric Boyer:
We’ve seen a slight decrease. Generally speaking, we receive between 130 and 145 projects. This time, it was more in the region of 120. There’s also the usual competition posed by other Work in Progress events, such as those of Cologne, Tallin and Thessaloniki, but there are also films which couldn’t be finished as a result of the first lockdown and which are now finished but have come to us a little too finished, which is something we try to avoid because we want real works in progress. But the most important thing is that the quality is still there in the many interesting films that have been sent to us. As it turns out, the selection meets our expectations.

Is it challenging organising a WiP event online?
It’s a first for Les Arcs. We’re focusing first and foremost on respecting the picture and the sound of the films which have been sent to us. And we didn’t want the jury to view them online, so they’ll come together in Paris in a good old-fashioned cinema auditorium, hired privately for the occasion. It will be a full seance, including a presentation of the film, a short Q & A session and eight minutes of extracts. In terms of online access for professionals, category A festivals and sales agents, we’ve been very selective. Above all - and this is also why we delayed announcing the selection - we insist upon secrecy to ensure that the films are free of rights when screened and that everyone gets a chance. Moreover, not all producers and filmmakers are impressed by big sales agents; sometimes they prefer to work with much smaller organisations. We’ve selected films which are very different in style, which should satisfy international sales agents, I hope.

What is your view of the current situation for international sales agents?
Clearly, for everyone, the near future is somewhat blurred. But it’s lucky that festivals are running despite everything because they’re essential for showcasing films. That said, distribution has been heavily impacted by cinemas closures around the world and many sales agents have films in stock which are yet to be shown in festivals, and this has an inevitable effect on their sales. But they still have to prepare for the future and they need new films for upcoming festivals: Cannes, if the films are finished in time, Karlovy Vary, Locarno, Venice, Toronto… It’s all very complicated and raises a whole raft of questions: what should we do with the films? How should we sell them? Who should we sell them to? Who is their target audience?

Festivals have been forced to move online for the past ten months now, SVOD platforms are experiencing exponential growth, cinemas are shut more often than not: is this going to overturn the structure of the film industry?
That’s the big question. The offering put forward by all platforms, from Netflix through to MUBI via HBO, now includes arthouse films, classic films… Lots of things. And given that not we’re not all film fanatics, there’s enough to satisfy every family. Because it also costs a lot of money for a whole family to go to the cinema. Moreover, the question isn’t just whether or not people will want to return to cinemas, but what they will want to see. It’s very difficult to predict the future. Who, for example, would have thought that a series as dark (and extraordinary) as Chernobyl would have worked? The question of the public’s return to cinemas is obviously crucial for cinema operators and distributors, but it goes much further than that because if the audience isn’t there, films aren’t distributed which means they’re not bought, etc. The worst-case scenario, for festivals too, would be that the film offering drastically diminishes.

This question of overturning the industry is also more widely linked to the desire to spend money on culture and to support culture civically, as happens in France. In other countries such as England and the US, it’s very difficult for arthouse films, which generally speaking aren’t much supported by the streaming platforms. So a whole section of film would no longer be represented, not on platforms, or on DVDs because this market no longer exists, or on TV which doesn’t buy these films. This would only leave festivals. In my opinion, the latter could take on the role of distributor in certain countries, or even show the films directly by circulating them in cinemas, as with the itinerant film circuit organised by the Karlovy Vary Festival, a circuit which went down very well with viewers who were happy to discover its films. So I’d say that I’m not pessimistic about arthouse cinema, I’m just very uncertain.

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(Translated from French)

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