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Italy

Paolo Minuto • Distributor, Cineclub Internazionale

“Independent European films lose their emotional impact on streaming platforms”

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- The independent Italian distributor talks about virtual markets, state subsidies and the risk posed by VOD to arthouse cinema

Paolo Minuto • Distributor, Cineclub Internazionale

Cineclub Internazionale was founded as an independent distributor in 2012 following the experience Paolo Minuto gained from working with international film societies up until 2010 as President of the International Federation of Film Societies. “Films are selected in line with a cultural view which aspires to the convergence of artistic quality and emotional impact”, explains Minuto who, in recent years, has brought to Italy Styx [+see also:
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interview: Wolfgang Fischer
film profile
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by Wolfgang Fischer (a LUX Prize finalist), Sami Blood [+see also:
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interview: Amanda Kernell
interview: Lars Lindstrom
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by Amanda Kernell (the winner of the LUX Prize as well as Venice’s Giornate degli Autori Europa Cinemas Label) and Sofia [+see also:
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interview: Meryem Benm'Barek
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by Meryem Benm Barek (awarded the Best Screenplay trophy in the 2018 Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard section).

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Cineuropa: You’ve just taken part in Berlin’s EFM. How has your experience of virtual markets been over the past few months, as brought about by the pandemic?
Paolo Minuto: Obviously, attending a virtual film market is a compromise, but we’re professionals and, over time, we’ve also learned to adapt to watching films via streaming platforms where necessary, even though this isn’t the best way of assessing them. Uncertainty over the future, over timings for the reopening of cinemas and, therefore, over the revival of the sector as a whole has delayed the acquisition of new titles and has had a greater negative impact than the virtual nature of markets. But research and selection activities have carried on regardless.

A year on from the first closure of cinemas, what risks does European film distribution in Italy and worldwide now face, in light of the changes in consumer trends and the stronger position of digital platforms?
In normal times, the distribution of non-national European films in Italy suffers as a result of bottlenecks in the cinema market, which means that we’re one of the top ten countries in terms of screen numbers but not so much in terms of viewer numbers. There are too many cinemas showing the same films and too few are free to show high-quality, independent European films, even in instances of multiprogramming. That said, there are some incredibly entrepreneurial and plucky operators in Italy, and distributors of high-quality European films make the most of these strengths. But we need more of them, which might come about when things re-open post-Covid, owing to a greater awareness that freedom in programming will be increasingly vital to cinemas’ survival. I don’t believe that the prolonged closure of cinemas has sapped the public’s interest in high-quality European films; indeed, this same public is also aware that films should be watched first and foremost at the cinema.

Furthermore, independent films derive most of their income from cinemas, and streaming platforms subsequently draw benefit from that period. The bigger platforms offer up films in a very confused way and they can’t and won’t cover the full range of independent, arthouse European production. If the latter were to go straight to streaming, the production of independent films would be economically unsustainable, not to mention all the other drawbacks it brings: watching a film at home cannot do justice to the technical and artistic standards exacted by the author, and, resultingly, films lose a significant part of their emotional impact and thus the essential reason for wanting to see them in the first place. This is also why, at festivals, films are presented in premieres and screened to the highest standards on the big screen; this is their role, it would be seriously inadvisable for festivals to offer up their entire programme online on an ongoing basis. Ultimately, it’s the variety and independence of the production and then the distribution process - which, in art terms, equates to freedom and democracy - that we also stand to lose in Europe, too, if the mid to large-size platforms prevail over cinemas, taking over production as well as distribution. Moreover, films aren’t specifically made to be streamed. When they are streamed or shown on TV, it’s usually the result of commercial decisions made in advance.

What is your view on the government’s €25 million fund for distribution companies, which actually seems to penalise smaller distributors?
The decision to create a support fund specifically designed for film distribution companies was a very significant legislative step on the part of the government and the Ministry for Culture, both in terms of the principle and the genuine substance behind it. Unfortunately, when it came to the fund’s distribution, it didn’t observe the original aim of compensating losses. Instead, it functioned according to incomprehensible criteria based on the gross box office takings of individual films which were distributed during the partial re-opening of cinemas last year. It also set a minimum as well as a maximum limit, contrary to other compensation funds in Italy and Europe. As a result, the distributors who had been most badly affected by the worst period of the crisis, almost exclusively the smaller ones, were ruled out from receiving any kind of support. As such, we’re hoping a new decree will be made as soon as possible, to remedy this iniquity.

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(Translated from Italian)

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