Today, Rotterdam is launching IFFR LIVE!, a collaboration with Fortissimo, TrustNordisk and Doc & Film intended to boost the circulation of European films.

“The whole idea is that while a film is being premiered here (at IFFR), there will be a ‘live’ connection to audiences who are either streaming it online or watching it in a cinema in, for example, Italy,” explains IFFR programmer Bianca Taal [pictured].

The initiative kicks off in 2014 with a Summit on Sunday [1.30pm - 5.30pm at De Doelen’s Van Cappellezaal] with representives from IFFR and the participating companies discussing the plans for IFFR LIVE! as well as the future of film distribution. Speakers at the Summit will also include marketing expert Niels Aalberts, MUSO’s Christopher Elkins, Michael Pierce of Cinema Nation, Slovenian exhibitor Nina PEce of Kinodvor, Mark Cosgrove of the UK’s Watershed, and Nico SImon of Benelux’s Utopolis.

Next year, several film premieres (between 5 and 9) will be shown simultaneously at the festival, in cinemas across Europe, on VOD and on PayTV.

Wherever the film is being watched, whether in a Rotterdam cinema or on a laptop, viewers will be made to feel that they are part or an “event.” They will all have the chance to participate in a Q&A with cast and crew (some by raising their hands, others by taking to social media.)

For distributors and sales agents, this is a way of testing out how a film plays to the public. It is also a marketing opportunity and a way to reach out to a wider audience.

“One of the reasons we think this is important to be involved with is the whole change of the market now,” says Nelleke Driessen, Managing Director of Fortissimo. She suggests it is now tougher than ever for smaller art house films to find an audience. “The only outlets for those kinds of films are the festivals.”

The challenge is to “invent” new ways of getting the best of these films seen beyond the festival circuit.

“We do think that when you do it (the screenings) on a European and multi-territory way, you will gain more interest. The fact that it is with a director, with a Q&A, with an introduction - it is much more an event than when you put it on VOD or organise one screening,” Driessen notes.

TrustNordisk’s Susan Wendt is realistic about what IFFR LIVE! can achieve. As she points out, other, similar initiatives have had a mixed history. “There have been so many different try-outs in terms of the whole day and date and VOD…to be honest, I don’t think any of those really worked,” Wendt notes. “I think it (IFFR LIVE!) is a great idea that doesn’t interfere with the ordinary window (restrictions) that we have in different countries.”

One of the challenges of most multi-platform release initiatives is that different countries have different regulations. It takes huge amounts of organisation to bring them into line. However, the sales agents are confident IFFR LIVE! (backed by MEDIA) will receive support across Europe.

For specialist art house fare of the kind screened in Rotterdam, IFFR LIVE! promises to provide a new international showcase.

This year’s IFFR marks the starting point - a chance to inform distributors and cinemas about what is being planned; “to get them warmed up for the whole thing” as Wendt puts it. Then, in 2015, the projects will be launched for real.

Among the speakers at the summit is Pete Buckingham, Former Head of Distribution and Exhibition at the UK Film Council and now co-founder of consultancy Sampo Media. He talks in terms of the three “e’s” that need to be brought back into film: “events, excitement and to a certain extent, we need to rediscover the concept of exclusivity.” IFFR LIVE!, he suggests, addresses all of these.

“At the moment, what we have had in the digital world is an excitement about abundance where everything can be available at any time and in every place. The reality is that while we have had access increased all over the place, the film value chain is not increasing, it is decreasing,” Buckingham points out. He cites a leading US newspaper which reviewed 900 films last year. As the critics realised, it is a struggle to get the best new filmmakers noticed when there are just so many movies available.

He says: “IFFR LIVE! is a very good beginning in trying to build the excitement about film that we all feel but maybe our customers do not.”