Donald Krim trained as a lawyer, and he provides a distinct and telling response to the question of how art-film distributor Kino International has survived for three decades in the volatile and constantly changing US marketplace. "Good taste and hard work," he says.
The company has recently been celebrating its history with a seven-city 30th anniversary US tour, presenting some of its best-known titles.
Meanwhile, as president of the New York-based specialty concern with a staff of 20, Krim is adapting aggressively to evolving market realities, particularly in the vein of high-definition video and video on demand (VoD).
A cousin of industry stalwart Arthur Krim, Donald Krim spent seven years working in the non-theatrical rental department at United Artists. Determined to establish his own identity, he jumped at the chance to run Kino when company founders Bill and Stella Pence left to launch the Telluride Film Festival.
Beginning in 1977, Krim grasped quickly the need to develop a catalogue of titles in addition to retaining licensing rights to the material that spurred Kino's early growth, such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton classics and the private collection of David O Selznik.
In 1982, with home video beginning to transform the industry, Krim started Kino on its current course of acquiring North American theatrical and video rights. That year at Cannes, he made the company's first theatrical acquisition, Japanese director Masahiro Shinoda's Ballad Of Orin. By 1987, the company launched a video label to distribute its growing list of titles. Krim estimates the library now contains approximately 500 titles, about 200 of those licensed from smaller companies.
Kino has gained particular importance championing the works of Eastern European directors such as Andrei Tarkovsky, Krzysztof Kieslowski and Aki Kaurismaki, Hong Kong's Wong Kar Wai and Hebrew-language film-maker Amos Gitai. Its most popular DVD is its highly regarded new transfer of Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin, restored by Enno Patalas and the Deutsche Kinemathek.
The rapid growth of DVD helped Kino through the sometimes vicious business cycles of specialised theatrical distribution, but new challenges assert themselves every day.
"The DVD market is in decline, and that is troublesome for everyone from the studios on down to companies such as ours," Krim says.
Kino continues to distribute traditional foreign-language art cinema, most recently releasing French director Pascale Ferran's Cesar-winning Lady Chatterley. Its next release is Joseph Cedar's Beaufort, Israel's submission for this year's foreign-language film Oscar.
And the company is preparing to launch a Kino-on-demand service and a special Blu-Ray high-definition DVD master of Fritz Lang's 1927 masterpiece Metropolis. Streaming video and VoD are the next-generation video stores, Krim suggests.
Everything else, he says, comes down to quality, taste and dedication: "You can't make too many mistakes as an independent art-film distributor."
[s19] See State of the Arthouse 2007, p24.