Source: Venice Film Festival

‘Blue Jean’

Generating robust admissions for UK independent film at the global box office remains a challenge, but the figures do not paint the complete picture of what marks a release as a success, according to Stephan De Potter, CEO at Benelux distributor Cineart.

De Potter was talking about the release of Georgia Oakley’s debut Blue Jean, a feature debut and Venice premiere that was backed by BBC Film and the BFI.

It garnered $357,412 at the box office outside of the UK, and $384,232 within the UK, according to Box Office Mojo.

“It was not great [in terms of admissions], but we were very happy,” said De Potter. “Of course, the figures are important, but it’s also – you place a new auteur in theatres. That’s part of the job. It’s not only restricted to the number of admissions.”

De Potter was speaking on a panel exploring the challenges and opportunities for UK independent cinema looking to travel globally, that took place at the Cannes UK Pavilion (May 20).

He was joined by Fabien Westerhoff, CEO of the London and Paris-based sales agent  forBlue Jean, Film Constellation. Westerhoff said of European distributors: “They always look for filmmakers they can try to be loyal to. Andrea Arnold has become a brand, it’s an Andrea Arnold film. When Stephan buys a Georgia Oakley film, it’s a debut … I suppose whatever she does next, Stephan will be keen to see if that’s something they can continue to work with.”

He continued, “There’s a continuity to the work you do with filmmakers. It’s more work on the debut, you have to build the audience in the first place. That’s the beauty of what we do, with impact and marketing and sales, whenever there is a new directorial voice, it’s about how do we get that filmmaker, that production team to be recognised as something new and exciting. It’s beautiful – it’s like a first kiss. There’s always only a first.”De Potter’s Cineart has built such a relationship with Andrea Arnold. Cineart pre-bought her Cannes premiere Bird, and has consistently been Arnold’s go-to Benelux distributor, after discoveringRed Road in competition in Cannes in 2006. “She’s part of the Cineart family,” De Potter said.

Italian distributor Lucky Red also pre-bought Arnold’s Bird – its first Arnold foray. Stefano Massenzi, head of acquisitions at Lucky Red, said on the panel: “We were born as arthouse and prestige distributors. More and more, the audience is going that way.”

Lucky Red is also soon to release Charlotte Regan’s Scrapper in Italy. “British films have always been successful in Italy, because of the work independent distributors have done in the past 40 years. The other extremely interesting aspect of our country is we dub. It’s an instrument of democracy. It cuts the distance of the language between the audience and the film,” said Massenzi.

Massenzi also noted, while UK independent films do resonate with Italian audiences, the American counterparts do not. “Similar American films – the American indie, never worked. The Americans don’t do many, let’s call them ‘social films’ – they don’t work. Maybe being European, the topics are always the social state, being out of work, struggling in society, all these topics that Ken Loach has done wonderfullly.” 

“We pass on a lot of topics from America on an issue basis,” added Sarah Mosses, CEO and founder of London and New York-based sales, distribution and global impact company Together Films. “The issue of the healthcare system, when you look at how it translates, it’s hard for people to relate to that being the struggle, because we all have healthcare.”

Together Films draws on support of foundations and philanthropists for non-recoupable grants to support the distribution of issue-based films in territories where the market is not commercially supporting the release, but where their research deduces a particular theme might have resonance with a community in that region.

Post-Brexit and the UK withdrawal from the EU Creative Media programme has caused a headache for European distributors who can no longer access its financial support for the release of UK films. The UK Global Screen Fund (UKGSF) offers some support in its place.

“Having something is always better than nothing,” said De Potter of UKGSF. “But it’s quite new and it’s not always transparent. We don’t know how the projects are decided upon and funded. Blue Jean - the release in Belgium was supported, in the Netherlands it was not. Why? We don’t know.”