Foreign Cinema Loses Ground with Dreamachine

by Anthony Kaufman
April 4, 2007 8:54 AM
2 Comments
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I hate to be the naysayer (although I always am), but Matt Dentler's recent post about foreign cinema's resurgence is completely naive, slightly misguided and ignores widespread changes in the global distribution of foreign cinema -- a shift that I explore in this indieWIRE article, "With Creation of Dreamachine, Foreign-Language Films Face Sleepless Nights Ahead," which explores the Celluloid/HanWay merger and what it means for the state of international art film.

Despite the celebrated success of a few very select group of studio-backed foreign indies ("The Lives of Others," "Pan's Labyrinth"), art-cinema is struggling around the world, according to those I spoke to for the article. Even Celluloid's Hengameh Panahi had to confess that the business she has long staked her reputation on -- by fostering the work of filmmakers like Francois Ozon and Takeshi Kitano -- has irrevocably changed.

"I have to give up on my smaller films, which is hard because I love them," Panahi told me. "At the same time, I realize there is no economy for those movies anymore." By taking on films with less commercial potential, she said, "We're helping the market to become more crowded and we're helping the small distributor to be more fragile."

Foreign-language cinema-lovers better bulk up on memory and software for their computers, because that's exactly where these films are heading in the not-so-distant future. Now is that a bad thing? Maybe not. For Panahi, it's the best way to keep the business healthy, and it may open the door to new audiences where art-house screens are rare. The only other option for the bulk of these smaller films, Panahi told me (which doesn't appear in the article) is film festivals. If Matt Dentler wants to program some foreign art films at SXSW, he may be asked to pay up more dough, because it could be the only way these movies recoup until digital distribution takes off.

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2 Comments

  • Filmbrain | April 4, 2007 12:36 PMReply

    Interesting article Anthony, and a subject that's of great importance to me.

    Tiny "art" films from abroad stand little chance theatrically, as we've seen repeatedly in recent years. Take a film like The President's Last Bang -- premiered at Cannes, received rave reviews internationally, yet tanked at the box office. (Even with great press from the likes of A.O. Scott and Glenn Kenny.)

    With the cost of plasma TVs and home theater systems plummeting, it isn't difficult to have an experience at home that is as good (if not better) than a screening at a tiny theater like The Cinema Village or the Quad here in NYC.

    It's my belief that these films can find an audience on DVD with the right word-of-mouth, coverage, etc.

    As head of a newly-formed DVD distribution company (Benten Films) I can say firsthand that part of the problem lies with the unreasonable expectations of sales agents/producers who mistakenly equate the size of the US market with the film's earning potential.

    Even the smallest of European films I've pursued are seeking a minimum guarantee that just doesn't make financial sense for a small company. On top of that, there's often a hesitancy to sign a non-theatrical only deal -- they all hope/believe that their film will find a theatrical distributor, which clearly isn't going to happen for many films.

    Personally, I don't believe the audience for these films will be found amongst the downloaders, but only time will tell.

  • Dentler | April 4, 2007 9:10 AMReply

    My blog post was more about how nice this weekend's box office report seemed for the state of American audiences responding to films outside the typical U.S. indie box. The worldwide climate of arthouse distribution is something I would never suggest to comment on. And, besides, I'm not a distributor. So my thoughts should be taken with a tiny grain of salt (or Med sand).

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