Mike Goodridge, Karel Och and Bero Beyer discuss the importance of festivals and distribution initiatives.

bero beyer

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The distribution role of festivals and the changing arthouse ecosystem was discussed in Think Fest’s second panel. Mike Goodridge, outgoing CEO of UK sales agent Protagonist Pictures and future artistic director at International Film Festival and Awards Macao, was bullish about the continued importance of festivals to sales agents.

“The distribution system is so dire that these tentpole festivals are becoming incredibly important as the only places you can see films,” he said. “We’ve had many films that haven’t sold widely at all – that’s where festivals kick in, they help to get the film seen.”

Goodridge added that smaller festivals faced a greater challenge as the impetus was normally placed on securing a high-profile world premiere slot, and the assumption that sales would follow then after.

IFFR director Bero Beyer explained that his festival team were constantly exploring new ideas to keep up with, and potentially get ahead of, the evolving arthouse landscape. His festival team are happy to trial innovation, even if it doesn’t always work.

“We want to be fully transparent and see how other models works,” he commented. “People can learn from our mistakes, that’s fine.”

Beyer talked up three Rotterdam initiatives that he felt could move the dial: IFFR Live, the festival’s satellite screening project, which this year took six festival films into more than 45 European cities as well as countries including Singapore, Israel and Canada; IFFR Unleashed, the festival’s own VoD service which was soft-launched last year; and innovation lab Propellor Film Tech Hub, a joint initiative with EFM, CPH:DOX and Berlin company Cinemathon, which is developing ideas to aid the film industry’s future.

Karel Och, artistic director of Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, discussed his festival’s own local distribution initiative, which it set up in 2015 in partnership with Czech outfit Aerofilms.

The distribution label – called KVIFF Distribution – is focused on releasing international titles in the Czech Republic. “We figured we should help local arthouse distribution by using the potential the festival has more than just one week a year,” said Och.

The label releases six to seven films a year and Och said the initiative currently breaks even, with larger releases such as Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth and Captain Fantastic allowing them to distribute smaller films. Three films are being released after this year’s festival: Sundance hit The Big SickAxolotl Overkill and Francois Ozon’s The Double Lover.

Asked whether a deal with Karlovy Vary would work for a Protagonist title, Goodridge said “we are open to anything that works and that’s good for the film”.

The panel also discussed the burgeoning awards season, and its impact on festivals.

“I find it [award season] really vulgar these days, but it seems to be something you can’t shake,” commented Goodridge. “It’s dictating festival strategy for films – some films are banned from attending festivals outside of the US before Toronto, or New York. It’s getting fairly serious.”

Och said that awards season strategies were regularly an issue for his programming.

“We have lost a few films that we considered worth supporting because folks overseas see them as awards contenders, so they put a stop to [the films playing festivals] in the summer,” he explained. “Every year it’s one or two films. It’s sad to see the studio strategies being applied to films that are edgy and should be screened as much as possible, it goes against the interest of the filmmakers.”