Now that summer is here, thoughts (well, mine anyway) turn to holidays and multiplexes being dominated by Hollywood’s latest salvo of tentpoles, sequels and tentpole sequels.
Doesn’t it seem that once Cannes has handed out its final award, international auteur-driven cinema goes into hibernation, awaiting autumnal weather and awards season kick-off? For the industry, summer is the most low-key season of the year, although there are still several compelling festivals.
Of the latter, Edinburgh looks rejuvenated under the aegis of new artistic director (and Screen’s illustrious former reviews editor) Mark Adams; the magnificent Karlovy Vary celebrates its 50th anniversary in July; and Locarno is perfectly situated in August, before summer reaches a jostling conclusion with Telluride, Venice and Toronto.
There are other key events on the summer film calendar, not least CineEurope, the trade show in Barcelona I’ll be attending for the first time and looking forward to seeing and hearing about innovations in the exhibition world.
As Phil Clapp, CEO of the UK Cinema Association and president of UNIC, remarked to Screen, while the conference has traditionally served as a showcase for studio slates, it’s in CineEurope’s interests to offer “a truer reflection of the rich diversity of the European cinema sector” and this year will see European powerhouses EuropaCorp and StudioCanal on hand with product presentations.
Both companies also feature in Screen’s June-July issue. We look at the move of Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp into US distribution with RED and detail StudioCanal’s growing interest in the family entertainment market, part of a wider feature on the landscape for animation production in Europe and Asia.
Having enjoyed phenomenal success with the rollouts of Paddington and Shaun The Sheep Movie, StudioCanal is charting its next moves. The company had a triumphant Cannes with its international sell-out on Aardman Animations’ next feature (and this issue’s prehistoric cover stars) Early Man, and are surely plotting the further adventures of Paddington.
Elsewhere, our ScreenTech special dips behind the scenes of ILM’s new London facility, explores the latest developments in premium cinema systems and looks at how data may increasingly shape the content we watch (having propelled Netflix’s House Of Cards into a cultural phenomenon).
There is also a report on IMAX’s ongoing strategy to take over the world. Recently, I watched Jurassic World in the immersive-cinema company’s impressive Empire Leicester Square site - 22 years after I’d watched the first UK press screening of Jurassic Park at the same (pre-IMAX) venue.
Back then, my jaw dropped in amazement at what this brave new world of visual effects might achieve on the big screen. For me, that early promise has yielded too many soulless spectacles, but when used smartly by cinema’s best storytellers, a VFX-reliant film can be visually spectacular and narratively engaging (see Gravity).
Much of what Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said during his Cannes talk is still on my mind, and the issues he addressed are only going to become more pressing as the streaming giant keeps expanding and the European Commission pushes for a digital single market (DSM), whatever shape that may take.
I don’t think Sarandos remotely allayed fears that the long-term strategies of streaming giants such as Netflix won’t have a harmful, lasting impact on the European film industry, not least the established models of territoriality, pre-sales financing and theatrical windows.
It was a scrupulously stage-managed appearance if truth be told, with little time for true debate. In the brief questioning time allotted, the only hard question directed at Sarandos (albeit in confrontational fashion) - “Are you aware you will destroy the film ecosystem in Europe in 10 to 15 years?” - he barely had time to answer before Harvey Weinstein leapt up from the front row to mount a vigorous defence of both Sarandos and Netflix.
It was straight out of the climactic courtroom scene of a Hollywood melodrama, and made even more surreal by the fact Weinstein was seated next to Jane Fonda.
With a deal in place for Netflix to become the exclusive US subscription service for first-run films from The Weinstein Company, Harvey has been a vocal supporter of the company’s ambitions. But as anyone with a history book knows, any kind of concentrated power is rife with pitfalls.
While the European Commission has publicly softened its DSM rhetoric in the face of industry criticism, this is a story that’s going to run and run.
Matt Mueller is Editor of Screen International