Talent wishlists also on the agenda during market panel.

European and US distributors discussed the ongoing importance of festivals and critics to their business and the potential chaos of the Digital Single Market during a Rome market panel over the weekend.

In a wide-ranging discussion, which included executives from US distributor Bleecker Street, Italy’s Lucky Red and Scandinavian sales outfit TrustNordisk, the panel agreed that - at a time when a glut of films are being produced - festivals still provide an important stamp of differentiation.

TrustNordisk head of sales Susan Wendt said: “There are more and more films out there so festivals help to get films recognition. It’s about awareness. You need a stamp for films to travel. You only have one shot to get the film going and they have shorter and shorter international lives.”

However, Lucky Red’s head of acquisitions and business affairs, Stefano Massenzi, cautioned that some festival prizes can be too removed from audience tastes.

“The audience is king. Sometimes when really arthouse films win these awards that festival stamp doesn’t have the same use [for a distributor]”.

The Italian distribution executive recognised the ongoing power of critics in steering opinion but lamented perceived changes within their ranks.

“I see more and more of a detachment between critics and audiences,” he added. “Critics are increasingly losing the role of educators and instead they lose themselves in themselves. That’s difficult because they are key to our business.”

Massenzi cited the example of critics booing Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash in Venice last month as an example of journalists letting outside agendas get the better of them.

Reaction to new-look Rome

The panel spoke favourably of Rome’s new-look festival and market.

“We can’t operate through an online system alone,” said Wendt. “You need to experience the talk of the town. You need to see people and talk. Local festivals can help create buzz.”

“As a distributor, Rome as it is today is useful,” added Massenzi.

“Rome as a market has been growing. Not everyone can go to LA for AFM so Rome can be a good time to see films after Toronto. We’re always having appointments but we need to see the movies at some point.”

Lucky Red was one of two companies to launch new sales companies during the market when it teamed with Indigo Film to create True Colours.

Digital Single Market

The potentially catastrophic impact of the Digital Single Market loomed large in the panellist’s thoughts.

“Geo-blocking is not only the reason we are here, it’s the reason the whole production, exhibition and sales sector exists,” affirmed Massenzi.

“The idea of doing away with it must have been brought by someone who didn’t know what the business is about.”

Massenzi added that consumer hunger for readily available content wouldn’t be sated by doing away with geo-blocking and said: “It’s a fake problem.

“A film doesn’t exist unless a distributor does his job to promote the film. Films exist because we work on them, press work on them, exhibitors work on them… otherwise they are viewed by very few people.”

Kent Sanderson, president of acquisitions and ancillary distribution at Bleecker Street, added: “The destruction of geo-blocking would crumble the international pre-sales market.

“Studios are hungry enough for independent films now. Were this model to fall away that pattern would be ten times worse.”

Shrinking pool of bankable talent

The panel also agreed that distributors could look to a smaller and smaller pool of bankable acting and directing talent to lure audiences.

Meryl Streep, Wes Anderson, Clint Eastwood, Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese and Nicolas Cage were among US names cited as helping lure different audiences while Francoise Ozon, Pedro Almodovar and Lars Von Trier were remarked as European directors who could still help pull arthouse crowds.