Amore Mio

‘Amore Mio’

France’s Urban Distribution has shut its doors, the latest independent distributor to fold due to struggling ticket sales following the closure of Rezo Films’ distribution arm in March.

Urban Group’s thriving international sales and production divisions Urban Sales and Urban Factory will continue to operate, but its distribution arm, founded in 2011 by Frédéric Corvez and Mathieu Piazza, was officially liquidated on March 21.

Corvez confirmed the closure to Screen, explaining, “Over the years, we’ve seen our work come up against more and more obstacles” and citing the pandemic as an event that “undoubtedly transformed the industry”.

He described 2023 as an “annus horribilis [and] the last straw for Urban Distribution”.

While moviegoing in France has recovered to near pre-pandemic levels, Corvez said: “It’s clear that not all films are equal in terms of admissions. Auteur cinema hasn’t gotten its audiences back. At the same time, promotional costs are rising in line with inflation, while revenues and the distributor’s share are not.”

Of the distributor’s few releases in 2023, only one exceeded 5,000 admissions: Ady Walter’s SHTTL, which sold 8,000 tickets. Even well-known actor/filmmaker Guillaume Gouix’s Amore Mio, which received strong reviews and featured a starry local cast including Elodie Bouchez, failed to attract audiences, selling only 3,500 tickets during its February 2023 release.

Corvez blamed Urban Distribution’s demise at least in part on what he described as a “disturbing industry trend” in which French cinemas strongly favour blockbuster releases over independent titles.

“We’ve noticed that many exhibitors, faced with the real profusion of films to be released, have no qualms about no longer working with small and medium-sized structures,” said Corvez.

Whereas Urban’s films would once have screened at around four or five cinemas in Paris, post-pandemic that has contracted to one or two with Corvez blaming “the domination of certain films and certain companies that uncompromisingly occupy screens to the detriment of diversity”.

Urban Distribution has released 64 films in its 13 years including titles from the likes of Tsai Ming Liang, Kleber Mendonça Filho, Alexander Rockwell, Hlynur Pálmason, Yolande Zauberman, Hitoshi Matsumoto, Marjane Satrapi, Peter Greenaway and Jean-Luc Godard.

“While we have no regrets, there are fears for independent cinema,” said Corvez, highlighting the crucial role that smaller independent distributors such as his own have played in the arthouse ecosystem.

“The industry is depriving itself of the opportunity to support emerging auteurs,” he said, adding: “What’s the point of producing feature films if they’re not distributed?”