MIA panel

Source: Luis Mora / Screen file / MIA / Lucky Red / TrustNordisk

[Clockwise L-R] Cameron Bailey, Cecile Gaget, Andrea Occhipinti, Carole Baraton, Susan Wendt, Marc Smit

The internationalisation of arthouse cinema came into the spotlight during a panel debate with leading industry and festival executives at the MIA market in Rome this week. 

“For many years we had been very predominantly North American and European, but even the Oscars have changed, it’s a very international landscape for arthouse cinema,” said Cameron Bailey, CEO of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Bailey was joined on the panel by Cecile Gaget, head of film at Wild Bunch, Carole Baraton, founder of Paris-based international sales and co-production company Charades, Marc Smit, co-CEO and owner of Benelux distributor Cineart, Andrea Occhipinti, founder and president of Italian distributor Lucky Red, and Copen­hagen-based TrustNordisk managing director Susan Wendt. The panel was moderated by Screen International editor Matt Mueller.

They debated how the industry is evolving to meet the challenges of the fast-changing sector, as well as what players are doing to seize new opportunities. 

Smit, of Benelux distributor Cineart, which has operations in Brussels and Amsterdam, said his approach was to always be flexible through change and diversification so as to cater for demand as soon as it was identified.

“For us the key is to know and own your audience, and we have a daily and weekly obsession to know our B2C components,” Smit said during the second half of the panel after the session was interrupted by a fire alarm, forcing the audience to spill out onto the Rome square whilst safety checks were carried out. “This is why we also moved into the financing of films, as this is the crux of it all.”

Cineart has joined forces with two other leading indie film distributors - Curzon and Madman Entertainment - to pool resources and raise financing for a film development fund in order to gain access to projects as early as possible, Smit said.

“We buy early, so we buy the scripts,” said Smit. “We have now invested in nine films and are in the early days in the process.”

Even though each company has the local distribution rights to each of the projects, Smit said he would consider relinquishing Cineart’s territorial rights if it made financial sense to do so.

“We will always want to distribute the films in our territory, but should the financing require a global sales agent it is obviously something that we will have to think about, as we not only have our distributor hat on, but also the developer and financier hat,” he said.

Gaget pointed out how Wild Bunch is now a European studio, producing, financing and distributing projects.

“What you have with us is an international sales company moving into distribution in France, and then expanding as a pan-European distribution network into Germany, France Spain,” said the exec, who joined the company from Anton in the summer. “We then started to sell television, and now are producing television in-house in France, Spain, Italy and also Germany too. We also have international sales, as well as international sales for television. 

In Italy, Wild Bunch has three shows in production with Amazon and other streamers, Gaget said.

Niche business

Yet even as the streaming platforms have become a fundamental part of the sales and distribution industry, it is important to focus on areas over which it is possible to work within and influence, said Charades’ Baraton. 

“It would be delusional to think we are competing with the streamers. Our business models are niche markets.”

Lucky Red’s Occhipinti emphasised how his company tries to be nimble and open, responding differently if need be, to every deal on every film.

“Cooperation and agility, it’s very important to do things completely differently and we have often done this in distribution. Every time is different, which is why you see so many different logos at the start of each film,” Occhipinti said. “We distribute Netflix films. Other times, distributors come to us. Sometimes we do marketing, and others, we do marketing, booking and billing. Same with production, every time we do a different structure.”

“Sometimes streamers will come to us and say ‘you have a really good team so why don’t you develop it.’ And as it is, our slate is very, very wide,” he added.

The common denominator to success, he said, was finding “material that stands out. The public is more selective, so we have to be more selective. People can get the average stuff at home, and so will not buy a ticket to go and see that film,” Occhipinti said.

TrustNordisk’s Wendt struck a philosophical tone, pointing out cinema-going has survived previous threats to its primacy. 

“I think it’s good to dream a bit [cinema-going] will carry on, though at the same time we need to really talk and understand what will happen [next],” she said. “Let’s not forget however that [Betamax] came, then videocassettes came, then DVDs came, and each time they said that no one would ever go to cinema again. That never happened.”