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Alice Lesort and Katarzyna Siniarska • Presidents, Europa International

“Our core business retains its true added value”

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- Market conditions, platforms, diversification, links with the press: the new co-presidents of Europa International, which brings together 45 sales companies, share their views

Alice Lesort and Katarzyna Siniarska • Presidents, Europa International

On the occasion of its annual conference which took place last week during the 18th Seville European Film Festival, Europa International elected two new co-presidents: Alice Lesort (Les Films du Losange) from France and Katarzyna Siniarska (New Europe Film Sales) from Poland. Also on the board are Sabine Chemaly (TF1 Studio), Paola Corvino (Intramovies), Jenny Walendy, (The Match Factory), Frédéric Corvez (Urban Distribution International) and Léo Teste (Film Constellation), with outgoing president Jean-Christophe Simon (Films Boutique) becoming treasurer. A review of the most sensitive issues for European international salespeople with the two new pilots of the association, which has now been in existence for ten years.

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Cineuropa: In Seville, Europa International's sales staff met for the first time physically since the beginning of the pandemic. What is the general state of mind at a time when the market is difficult?

Alice Lesort:
Sales people are in a very combative frame of mind. They have been through a very complicated and tough period from which we know we are not yet out of. That said, many of us have been able to adapt despite the difficulties and we will continue to do so. That's what being an international salesperson is all about: being able to adapt to different markets, to changing situations in different countries, being very well informed about what's going on. Now more than ever, we have to be very aware of the situation in each territory, identify which distributors have been supported in which countries and which have not, and distinguish between territories where cinemas reopened relatively quickly and those where they have remained closed for more than a year and a half. We have always been able to adapt to all these parameters and more than ever, we are very determined and we have the will to defend theatrical releases and all types of European films that can circulate internationally. Of course, the situation is not easy, but we are highly motivated to defend our activity, which is one of the solutions for preserving real diversity in cinemas throughout the world.

Katarzyna Siniarska: It is our challenge now to keep up the work initiated during the previous years under the presidency of Jean-Christophe Simon with successful battles for Europa International thanks to the support of exhibitors, distributors and festivals. We have also experienced all these shifts in our approach to what has become a kind of cycle of fears and hopes in constant fluctuation according to the ever-changing health situation. We have had to be, and still have to be, particularly responsive and flexible, very aware of the realities of each market and the hopes of each buyer, how best to address them and how to create a bit more of a sustainable approach. Everything had to be adapted in a particularly fluid environment. Paradoxically, nothing ever stopped for us sellers. There was more work, more communication, especially because of all the changes in the calendar: for releases, for world premieres, for the delivery of films delayed in post-production or postponing the start of shooting. We could never accurately assess the dynamics of demand or the supply of films that we could handle. On the other hand, for two years, this has mainly affected exhibitors, distributors and festivals, but now the sellers are also on the front line and we also have to face the new realities. We are in a slightly different position, as an intermediary, and we are in this kind of moment where we have to readjust and revisit all our strategies in terms of market presence, spending, how to present films in the media, what kind of visibility we want to give them in relation to the trades and festivals as launching pads.

What about streamers? Does their growing number open up new opportunities for sellers or is it a source of concern because their strategy and growing volume of production generate a risk for international sellers' access to works?
KS: It depends on each streamer of course, but I have always been convinced that the thirst for acquisitions that we saw a few years ago from Netflix or other platforms was just a very expensive marketing campaign. You just have to look at the way film is treated through algorithms and how that translates into the talent and content of their own productions.

AL: I think it's both a new opportunity and a big challenge. It is true that they will produce more, but they still buy. They still need us, maybe for more specific types of films, more independent films, where the sales people have a real know-how, from reading scripts to festival premiere strategies to creating buzz around a work that maybe doesn't have the cast of the century or the most renowned director. We know how to do this and streamers are grateful.

KS: Being optimistic, we will remain these kinds of tastemakers, partners of the platforms that positively consider this additional value that we create by launching the films in the world, making them visible, helping talents to travel, bringing out new names and new voices, which is crucial not to get lost in a communication hubbub with abandoned films in the middle of it all.

Will international sales companies in the future have to add to their core business either an upstream activity in production or co-production or a downstream activity by investing in distribution?

KS:
All sales companies have very discrete strategies to pivot or expand their activities. Some go into management, others into production, development, creating financial packaging for films. It obviously depends on the capabilities and talents attached to each structure. It is true that this is a trend, but we must be very careful because we have to work in a collaborative environment and we do not want to take the place of producers because we need them to remain active and creative. Because diversity is not an empty slogan, it is a crucial element in the creation of culture. If we do not want to end up in a totally conformist amalgam of content, we must have strong artistic voices and this has to happen through a creative and diversified production environment.

AL: Being part of Les Films du Losange, which is at once a producer, distributor and seller, even though we also sell or distribute films that we did not produce, I think it all depends on each work. International sellers have very useful knowledge about international co-productions, for example, because we are in contact with quality companies all over the world. It is true that there may be a desire to diversify among international salespeople, but I think that not only does our core business retain its true added value, but it is also important that everyone continues to do what they do best, because selling films worldwide is a very demanding activity that must remain the focus of our objectives.

KS: We are all already involved in a relatively light way in production or co-production, by being involved from development to editing. A good recent example at New Europe Film Sales is Lamb [+see also:
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trailer
interview: Valdimar Jóhannsson
film profile
]
, where we were involved in the script and worked to complete the financing by helping to find co-production partners. This is something we are always willing to do, but in a symbiotic way rather than by taking over from the producer. Above all, what is important now is to think long term, because the short and medium terms are impossible to predict.

The coverage of all films by the trades at major festivals has become more complicated recently. Is this a major concern for sellers?
AL: It is especially a concern for the sellers of arthouse films because we must not forget that Europa International represents sales companies of all sizes and genres. But for companies like New Europe Film Sales, Les Films du Losange or many other structures of our association, it is a real subject that we discuss a lot both among ourselves, but also with the directors of the biggest festivals. We also discuss it with the trades themselves because we know them very well. Everyone agrees that for a first feature film without a big cast, selected for example at the Semaine de la Critique, the trades are extremely useful, especially in the current market with a traffic jam of films premiering at festivals. For this kind of film, it's very important that trades are able to attract the attention of buyers who are overwhelmed by the volume of films being screened. So this is a real issue that we are discussing to find a positive solution with all the sellers involved.

KS: For us, it is crucial to have reviews, whether they are favourable or not, because they always somehow legitimise the relevance of a film: someone has made an effort and paid enough attention to cover a film and publish a review. Of course, there is the question of whether this is a shift in the editorial lines of the "trades" or whether it is a lack of budget which we can perhaps address, of course ethically. We will never pay for a review, that would be shameful, but if it is a question of money, perhaps some public institutions, some neutral players in the industry who are not linked to us but who realise that it is a necessity for the existence of films which are themselves supported by various public funds on the European co-production market.

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(Translated from French)

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