When Turkish Silicon Valley technologist Efe Cakarel (a grad of MIT, Stanford and Goldman Sachs) launched The Auteurs ("Your online cinema, anytime, anywhere, watch, discover, discuss") in November, 2008, he started growing the subscription site with a core group of movie lovers. He did it because none of the sites offering movies on the internet "did it right," he says. Obsessed with the user experience, he wanted the site to feel "simple," he says, and he fussed over every line of copy and pixel. With help from investors Criterion and Celluloid Dreams, Cakarel grew the site to over 260,000 registered global members in 177 countries, from Australia, Canada, and Russia to Portugal and Benalux. (The U.S. commands 45 % of the site's members, followed by the U.K., but London just outpaced New York.) He also partnered with Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Foundation to bring classic films to movie lovers.
Having closed 90 distribution deals for 1200 films (Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark has been showing on The Auteurs in 150 countries), Cakarel kept realizing that many people had no idea what the word "auteur"--a French word for author that has come to mean a film director with a signature style--actually means. It was not accessible.
Cakarel wants to grow members into the millions. So he went on a quest for a new name. He called on ad agencies all over the world to find a simple, easily-typed name. "Find me my global brand, my Sony," he told them. It took nine months, but finally an agency in Tokyo knew they had found the name. Mubi.
The word "movie" is mispronounced in many cultures that have trouble with the letter V. It isn't a word in any language. It is a city in Nigeria. And Cakarel plans to make that city the movie-lover capital of the world.
Switching the site over on May 13--285,000 pages had to be redirected at once to Mubi--was a logistical nightmare. But Cakarel bought the domain name on Monday and made the change. "The vision is to make the best films ever produced available globally in every language," says Cakarel. "It's a good vision. We're going to get there." While Mubi is still cash-flow negative, Cakarel expects to turn the corner within the year. The site is sponsored by Stella Artois, and sells advertising.
Here in Cannes, Cakarel has a competition going for filmmakers. He arranged with the Short Film Corner, which boasts 1200 filmmakers, for a jury to pick 300 contestants from their idea pitches for a three-minute HD Flip Cam short to be filmed during the festival. The winner will be chosen on May 21 and will win 3000 Euros (second-place gets 1000, third, 500) and will pitch a film idea to French sales co. Celluloid Dreams' Hengameh Panahi.
Recently, Mubi got together with the Sao Paulo Film Festival to stream their movies during the fest. 20,000 people in 120 cities in Brazil came to the site to watch movies. Cakarel hopes to continue that effort with fests such as Tribeca.
In other news: Mubi is going to make available on its site some 40 films of Agnes Varda. Other name directors who own the rights to their films will follow, Cakarel says--he's already negotiating. Another major partnership will be announced in Cannes on Tuesday, which will exponentially grow the site, which Cakarel expects to burst into the millions in the next year.
If it does, than mark my words, Mubi could be the site that turns the corner for digital distribution that so many people are waiting for: the one that has enough critical mass to bridge the marketing gap that bedevils so many tiny movies seeking a meaningful identity.