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At the EFM, panellists share their takeaways on the future of European film distribution


- BERLINALE 2022: The talk, co-hosted by Europa Distribution, came at a time of great disruption, but also of constant evolution wherein new players are set to change the future of film releasing

At the EFM, panellists share their takeaways on the future of European film distribution
l-r: Michael Gubbins, Babette Wijnjtes, Kim Foss, Stefan Bradea and Stefano Massenzi during the panel

On 15 February, the European Film Market (10-17 February) and Europa Distribution co-hosted a panel titled “Darwin’s Nightmare: Game Changers in the Evolving Film Ecosystem”. The event comes at a time of great disruption for the industry, but also one of constant evolution wherein new players, new release patterns and many more changes are emerging, some of which are probably set to disappear, whilst others may be here to stay and may shape the future of film releasing. The talk was moderated by analyst, journalist and consultant Michael Gubbins, who introduced the speakers: Vedette’s head of Acquisitions and Sales, Babette Wijnjtes (Netherlands); Camera Film’s CEO Kim Foss (Denmark); Bad Unicorn’s co-founder and Acquisitions manager Stefan Bradea (Romania); and Lucky Red’s head of Acquisitions and Business Affairs, Stefano Massenzi (Italy).

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In his contribution, Massenzi said we have been living in “a bubble” for too long, since many processes were already in place before the pandemic, and in particular, he noted that the theatrical market was already focusing on acquiring “films really worth watching in cinemas”. The topic of cinemagoing is very complex to tackle, he argued, because the choice is no longer between people attending cinemas or dining somewhere, but between them deciding whether to watch content in a theatre or on a platform. He added that most of the arthouse films that were successful were the ones labelled as “event movies”, but he wondered whether there were enough such movies to keep thousands of screens up and running throughout the year. To do this, exhibitors will need a “constant flow of products and customers”. In addition, the field has become increasingly competitive, not just because of other players and streamers, but also owing to the presence of companies that don’t focus on theatrical distribution as a primary added value for a given piece of content.

Wijnjtes agreed with Massenzi’s take and spoke about the activities of Vedette, currently based in the Benelux region. Among other things, she talked about their decision to have their own data marketing manager, in order to remain in full control of their own marketing campaigns and adapt them easily when necessary to intercept audiences. The idea is that the knowledge gained through the work on a certain film will bring value when promoting the next one. The team also decided to release only six titles a year, so that they can focus on these for a longer period of time.

Bradea stated that he doesn’t perceive VoD as “an ominous threat”; nonetheless, he argued that theatrical remains the best way to get acquainted with a European arthouse film and to approach the audience. This is particularly true within the Romanian context, where “the VoD landscape is very poor, except for big players”. Bradea has followed different models over the past two years, including the opening of the outfit’s own VoD channel, which helped “to keep the conversation running with the audience who couldn’t attend cinemas”, as they were shut down for about ten months nationwide. The strategy worked for a while, but after the reopening, the team realised how theatrical distribution should still be the main focus of their work.

Foss is quite optimistic about the sector’s long-term prospects. In his opinion, the third reopening showed how the audience is keen to come back to cinemas – albeit not in the same plentiful numbers as two years ago – since “we are social animals”. Besides his distribution work, he runs a theatre and opened his own VoD platform, currently showcasing about 500-600 titles. It benefits the cinema’s reputation and brings in only a little income, but it’s still a nice “icing on the cake” to have. Speaking about his distribution strategies, he said: “When I deal with titles that are not strong enough for theatrical distribution, I don’t put them on the platform, because the expenses would outweigh the income. [...] I don’t see any clear solution to how to generate extra income apart from theatrical, at the moment. [...] It’s illuminating to see how many of us have been out of work around Europe and how little innovation has come about over the last two years.” On a more positive note, he added that the focus should remain on educating the audience and curating content, and mentioned the example of Gregory Kershaw and Michael Dweck’s The Truffle Hunters [+see also:
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, which enjoyed “outstanding numbers recorded across Scandinavia”, with “figures close to those of the USA, not per capita but in total”.

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