Ten independent distributors from Central and Eastern Europe attending the festival discussed the possibilities of theatrical distribution on a European level. Since the majority of European producers do not cross national borders, the meetings in San Sebastian were aimed to create possible platform and networking opportunities to improve the circulation of European productions.
• From Slovenia, Natasa Bucar, project manager of the cultural center Cankarjev Dom, a public institution that organizes many events promoting film, including the Ljubljana International Film Festival has been in art film distribution for the last 15 years. They distribute five to six titles every year to fill the gap in theatrical distribution of European high-profile films in Slovenia. Priority is given to established and not always well-known European and other international filmmakers. Their last distributed titles were Neil Jordan’s ‘Breakfast on Pluto’, Tony Gatlif’s ‘Transylvania’, Bent Hamer’s ‘Factotum’, Dagur Kari’s ‘Dark Horse’, Corneliu Porumboiu’s ‘12:08 East of Bucharest’, Roy Andersson’s ‘You, the Living’, Pascale Ferran’s ‘Lady Chatterley’, Marjane Satrapi’s ‘Persepolis’ and Shane Meadows’ ‘This Is England’.
Besides Cankarjev Dom, there are only four arthouse cinemas in Slovenia. They need more along with arthouse cinema networks to enable better film promotion. In Slovenia, like everywhere in Europe, the number of cinema viewers has fallen drastically. Audiences focus on fewer films, the top 20 films take up to almost 50% of the market in Slovenia.
• From Hungary, Rita Linda Potyondi of Cirko Film - Másképp Foundation, the only Hungarian distributor to operate as a non-profit-foundation, they also own one theater in Budapest. Working on a showstring budget, they are guided by personal tastes and focus on international and particularly European ‘difficult’ auteur films with targeted or limited audiences, especially those that explore themes related to discriminated groups: homosexuals, handicapped people, ethnic or religious minorities and victims of family abuse. Their last releases include films by Robert Guédiguian, Bruno Dumont, Fernando Leon de Aranoa, Baltasar Kormakur, Alain Corneau, Bruno Podalydès, Bertrand Bonello, Claire Denis, Ferzan Ozpetek, Catalin Mitulescu and Oskar Roehler. A recent surprise success was Anders Thomas Jensen’s ‘Adam's Apples’ which became a sort of cult film. They also did well with Palme d’Or-winner ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days’, and ‘Persepolis’, Susanne Bier’s ‘After the Wedding, ‘Red Road’, ‘My Brother Is An Only Child’, ‘A Soap’, ‘Our Daily Bread’. Upcoming are the Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne's ‘Lorna’s Silence’, Gustave de Kervern and Benoit Belepine’s ‘Louise Michel’, Nic Balthazar’s ‘Ben X’, Simon Staho’s ‘Heaven’s Heart’, Ole Christian Madsen’s ‘Kira’s Reason’, Josef Fares’ ‘Leo’, Anders Thomas Jensen’s ‘The Green Butchers’ and ‘Flickering Lights’, and Ole Bornedal’s ‘Just Another Love Story’.
• Czech distributor Artcam’s Managing Director Premysl Martinek knows he is fighting an uphill battle. In 2007 combined total admissions for Artcam's films were under 50,000 — 0.4 percent of the national total. By comparison, leading distributor Falcon drew more than 4,000,000 viewers with its films, nearly a third of the market. However Martinek is convinced there is room in the market for small distributors and is interested in the shared challenges, from the opportunities offered by digital distribution and video-on-demand to how to negotiate with producers on minimum guarantees. The main problem is cultivating an audience. “It's very different from in Holland or Germany, where there are audiences for arthouse films,” he says.
Most of Artcam's target market is in Prague, home to roughly 1,000,000 people where European film is largely restricted to a handful of single-screen theatres, while the city's 14 multiplexes focus primarily on Hollywood imports and successful local films.
Artcam has distributed some of the most widely heralded European films of recent years, including Ole Madsen's drama ‘Prague’, ‘Persepolis’ and ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’. The international success of such films has attracted the attention of larger distributors who are now crowding the arena. This year in Cannes when they tried to acquire ‘Waltz with Bashir’, there was greater competition. Martinek says arthouse is an important part of any film culture, and lack of access to European films is hurting Czech cinema because if they lack exposure to the cinema of other countries, from new ways of narration, they cannot develop their own cinema. The Czech Ministry of Education has introduced media studies to secondary school curricula to show young people that film is “not just fun and popcorn. It's also art.”
• Polish distribution company Gutek’s Jakub Duszyński, artistic director and head of programming (along with Roman Gutek) at the Muranow movie theater also programs for the different festivals held at the theatre and for Poland’s largest film event, the Era New Horizons Film Festival in Wroclaw. A lawyer by training and a fan of Asian genre films, Duszynski has also set up a distribution company (Blink) specializing in this type of film.
Gutek Film has always been a launching pad for auteur films and has released films by Lars Von Trier, Pedro Almodóvar, Jim Jarmush and Wong Kar-Wai. Every year, they distribute two or three films not aimed solely at auteur film enthusiasts, but also at multiplex audiences. Among such titles are Tom Tykwer’s ‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’ and ‘Control’. Coming up are Polish features including Jerzy Skolimowski’s ‘Four Nights With Anna’, Piotr Lazarkiewicz’s ‘0_1_0’ and Katarzyna Adamik’s ‘Boisko bezdomnych’. They distribute almost exclusively European films. The box office is certainly dominated by US films, but by only a few titles which often have, interestingly, something European about them, for example they may be inspired by European literature.
• Slovakia’s Michal Drobny is marketing manager for Slovak distributor Continental Film. Slovakia sees 2,500,000 to 3,000,000 admissions in a year. A successful film for Continental is 10,000 to 15,000 admissions, as compared to one of the Harry Potter films which will have 200,000 admissions.
Continental releases 30 to 40 films a year and, thanks largely to its partnership with Warner Bros, enjoys a market share of 20%–30%. Continental also serve as Slovak distribution partners for Hollywood Classic Entertainment, which often buys rights to European and arthouse titles for several Eastern European territories at once. Continental acquires other titles through direct negotiation with the producers, usually from the Czech Republic. Drobny seldom attends festivals other than Berlin. This year is his first visit to San Sebastian.
Margins are tight for Continental, which is the second or third largest distributor in Slovakia. Continental is also a 30% shareholder in Slovak multiplex chain Cinemax, which owns nine cinemas countrywide. Continental also operated Bratislava's only arthouse cinema until it was turned into a congress hall.
Continental counts on public money for a small portion of its operating budget. The Slovak Ministry of Culture gives support up to a maximum of SKK 160,000 (€5,500) for the distribution of European films which covers the cost of two or three prints. Continental also receives funding through the MEDIA automatic support scheme, typically receiving 40 to 60 cents per admission for European films.
Drobny says this public support is welcome but it's seldom enough to make a real difference to distributors. “A print for a US title costs $300 [€210]. For a European title, the cost is $1,000–1500 [€700–1,000] for the print, plus I still need to pay for the all the marketing materials and the cost of subtitles,” he says. “We can't be surprised that American films are everywhere.”
Not surprisingly few European films secure distribution in Slovakia. Cinemax promotes European and arthouse film through its Artmax program and screens independent films once a week, sometimes for free. Current titles in the selection include ‘Good Bye, Lenin!’, ‘The Secret Life of Words’, ‘The Science of Sleep’, ‘Volver’ and ‘Angel’. In cooperation with the Embassy of Spain, Continental and Cinemax are creating a Spanish Days celebration of Spanish cinema at Cinemax locations in November.
Drobny has hopes that digital cinema will help small distributors, but believes it will be five to ten years before the major studios settle on a common format. Even then, the costs of converting screens will be challenging for the private sector. “To install one 2K digital system costs SKK 3m–4m [€100,000–132,000] and we have 37 screens, so it's a lot of money,” he says. “We'd like to invest but it will take a long time to see a return on that investment.”
• From Romania, Transilvania Film, founded by Tudor Giurgiu and currently run by Stefan Bradea is one of the successful pioneers of arthouse film distribution in Romania. At first they distributed mainly British, German and Scandinavian features but gradually turned to quality Romanian films, genre pictures, even some mainstream American movies. Their eclectic selection is targeted to the highly educated public, basically university graduates under 35. Their latest premiere was ‘Non pensarci’ by Gianni Zanasi, an Italian comedy. Coming up are Gus Van Sant’s ‘Paranoid Park’ and a few Romanian films: Horatiu Malaele’s ‘Silent Wedding’, Adrian Sitaru’s ‘Hooked’ and Anca Damian’s debut, ‘Crossing Dates’. Their most profitable film was Tudor Giurgiu’s ‘Love Sick’ with 20,800 admissions and a box office gross of over €50,000. Other successful features were Neil Burger’s ‘The Illusionist’, with 11,500 admissions, and ‘Paris Je T’Aime’, with 9,715 admissions.
Film distribution business in Romania is rather unstable. There are eight active distributors bringing 150-160 features every year to 40-50 screens around the country. The number of distributors is growing and it is becoming a overserved field.
The Romanian mainstream public has little interest in European arthouse film and there are very few available screens, no arthouse cinemas and a poor DVD and TV arthouse market. And there is competition among distributors.
• Stefan Kitanov is the founder of the most important annual film event in Bulgaria, the Sofia International Film Festival. In 2001 he founded ART FEST Ltd., the company behind Sofia IFF. The same company is one of the key European film distributors in Bulgaria. ART FEST Ltd. has three components: production, distribution and exhibition.
Most recent releases include Fatih Akin’s ‘The Edge of Heaven’, ‘The Palermo Shooting ‘by Wim Wenders and ‘Delta’ by Kornel Mundruczo. The most successful releases were Francois Ozon’s ‘Swimming Pool’ and ‘Crossing the Bridge’ by Fatih Akin with 8,000 to 10,000 admissions.
Such a distribution business is not profitable. Festival audiences like European films but the general audience likes Hollywood films. Festival audiences don’t go to regular cinemas. The general audience goes to regular cinemas, therefore European films don’t go regularly to mainstream cinemas. There need to be events around the distribution of European films so that they be seen, such as a traveling package going to different towns, whether it is with 35mm or video screenings. There are less than 30 towns in Bulgaria with cinemas.
• From Estonia, Katrin Rajaare of Tallinnfilm, a state-owned company that used to produce the majority of Estonian films during the Soviet era has stopped production and sold its studio and now focuses on restoration of its archives. In 2004, Tallinnfilm began operating as an arthouse cinema and a year later started a distribution operation to ensure continuous programming for the cinema. Tallinnfilm acquires the rights to 12-16 films a year, mostly European films, with some titles from Asia and the US. As a state-owned company, Tallinnfilm buys mostly Estonian theatrical rights only. It is the second largest distribution company in Estonia, with a market share of 2.6%. In the Baltic countries, all rights are acquired for smaller films and shared with Lithuania’s Skalvija and Latvia’s Kino Riga. Their biggest hit in 2007 was ‘La Vie en Rose’ with 9,606 paid admissions. This film was number 43 in the 2007 national box office chart. Only US and Estonian films were at the top of the chart. Recent acquisitions include ‘Happy-Go-Lucky’ and ‘Vicky Christina Barcelona’ to be released around Christmas and the beginning of 2009.
There is a small, steady market for arthouse titles in the capital city of Tallinn, but the recent opening of a five-screen miniplex in the second city, Tartu (96,000 inhabitants), has brought hope from the outskirts as well. There are very few towns where you can screen European films, although the cinemas have received public support for technical equipment and should screen arthouse titles, but the reality is that you can’t force cinemas to screen certain films that won’t bring in audiences.
• From Lithuania Skalvija, an exhibitor since 1962 under the name of Planeta became the only arthouse in Lithuania in 1992. It has only one screen and 88 seats and is subsidized by the Vilnius Municipality. Located in the city center; it promotes quality cinema and pays special attention to young audiences and education. Its market share as an exhibitor is 1.11%. Two major multiplex theatres share 70 % of the entire Lithuanian exhibition market. Greta Akcijonaite heads its recent arthouse film distribution activity. Over the last two years they have released 10 films theatrically, and another 5 have been acquired for Lithuania and/or all the Baltic States. As a very small and specialized distributor, Skalvija has a market share of 0.64%. Most recent releases were the Danish film ‘Adam's Apples’, with almost 8,000 admissions and the Spanish film ‘Dark Blue Almost Black’ with over 6000 admissions. Recent acquisitions include Sam Garbarski’s ‘Irina Palm’ (Belgium/UK), Kornel Mundruczo’s ‘Delta’ (Hungary), the Palme d’Or winner ‘The Class’ (France) by Laurent Cantet, Thomas Clay’s ‘Soy Cowboy’ (Thailand/UK), Ruben Östlund’s’ Involuntary’ (Sweden), and Ilmar Raag’s ‘The Class’ (Estonia).
The market share of the European films released theatrically was 25% in 2007 although the share of admissions to European films was only 11%. There is definitely a lack of venues for screening European and quality films.
• Latvia’s Oskars Killo heads Acme Film Sia the leading independent film distributor in Latvia, established in 2004 and owned by Acme, a Lithuanian based company. The rights for Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are bought by the mother company in Lithuania. In 2007, Acme Film had 62 theatrical releases and a 25% market share. In 2008, the number of films released will be the same, but the revenue is expected to be higher. In 2008, Acme Film has had such European successes as French films ‘99 Francs’ and ‘Asterix at the Olympic Games’, and Spain’s ‘The Orphanage’. The last European hit was ‘2 Days in Paris’, released on one print on July 4, 2008 and still in release with 12,500 admissions thus far. ‘Cash’ was released on one print on August 1 and has 8,500 admissions so far. The results for ‘2 Days in Paris’ and ‘Cash’ are comparable to recent US releases in Latvia such as ‘The X-Files 2’, and ‘Disaster Movie’. Recent European acquisitions include ‘Happy-Go-Lucky’, ‘Paris’, ‘JCVD’, ‘The Duchess’, ‘Vicky Christina Barcelona’, ‘Vinyan’, ‘Ne te retourne pas’ among others.
In 2007, European films had a 18.3% market share, US films a 66% market share, the rest of the world 10.1% and national films a 5.5% market share.