There is a kind of gold-rush mentality attached to the holiday season in just about every part of the globe. The Hollywood majors unleash dozens of fun rides and the rest of the world follows suit.
Italy literally has its annual holiday movie in the form of the Nataleseries and France can be expected to churn out several popular rib-ticklers. Comedies also abound in any number of countries in South America and Asia and several Scandinavian nations have a family movie at the year end.
Local epics and adventures pop up in China and Russia and this year's most popular film in Japan was a bit of an anomaly. Letters From Iwo Jima was filmed in southern California by Clint Eastwood, telling the story of the Pacific battle from the Japanese perspective with a Japanese cast speaking in Japanese.
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em
Still, casting aside exceptions, what has evolved is the proverbial "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" philosophy for countries with significant film industries. Other than language, these popular indigenous confections emerge as local versions of US movies. Ironically, more end up being acquired for their remake potential than as theatrical releases in the US or anywhere else where a different tongue is spoken.
The popular perspective on these commercial vehicles - which this season includes a new Xuxu film in Brazil, France's Hors De Prix, Gota Kanal 2 from Sweden and the all-too-obvious South Korean 200 Pound Beauty - is that they are too specific to appeal beyond their home base. And that particular verdict does have some validity. However, it is glib and dismissive and in the majority of instances would not bear up if these films had the opportunity to be seen.
What every ambitious film-maker desires is access to movie screens. But unless they happen to be making a film for one of six companies located in greater Los Angeles, the hurdles to clear are daunting. Little more than a handful of production/distribution entities have a global network that ensures their films will be marketed and booked just about anywhere an audience exists.
A number of years back, the then Svenskfilm president Jorn Donner dryly noted that roughly 80% of the Swedish box office went to American movies and that in any given year by any measure 80% of the best films were not American. Donner said an inconsistency was obvious and ought to be addressed. A lot of people are still waiting.
Polygram was really the only non-US entity to take steps toward creating a global operation but its film arm collapsed two decades ago. Nonetheless its brief tenure clearly suggested the possibilities and acceptance of a wide range of what were perceived as commercially unconventional films was valid. Today, only Bollywood has established a worldwide circuit in which Indian films premiere day-and-date in about 20 countries where there is a Hindi diaspora.
Former Mpaa president Jack Valenti always maintained that the film industry was a level playing field in which audiences could choose what they wanted to see. He insisted a good film, regardless of origin, stood on its merits. But when that film is shut out of screens or bypassed because an exhibitor must play Unaccompanied Minors to secure Superman Returns, the argument begins to falter.
- For full box-office charts see www.ScreenDaily.com.