Don't count on N America
By Patrick Frater
Sun, 12 February 2012, 07:24 AM (HKT)
Asian film producers have seen the North American market for their films shrink in recent years. But thinking that they will make a come-back any time soon, or that video-on-demand is going to create a new market, could be a mistake, audiences in Berlin were told on Saturday.
The North American market for foreign-language films was described by distributors as "parochial and difficult" a seminar within the Berlin International Film Festival heard.
Geoffrey GILMORE (pictured), the former Sundance programme chief who now heads the Tribeca Film Festival, said that the festival has spent the past four years attempting to find new connections with audiences. As a result, it has now it has largely adopted a video-on-demand (VoD) strategy.
"In the old days I'd say you open the newspaper, you read the review, you go to the theatre and you watch the film. Now, wait a second, you guys don't read newspapers, wait a second there are no reviews, and these films aren't showing in theatres," said Gilmore. "[So] we are trying to find ways of reaching audiences that aren't just theatrical, how to reach younger audiences. A couple of years ago when we began, a day and date [theatrical and VoD] strategy was fairly edgy."
Ed Arentz of Music Box Films, whose company's stock in trade is was described as "event art-house titles", such as Sweden's Millennium trilogy, said "We are still trying to figure out what films do well. We know that sexy thrillers can have a life on demand. [South Korean film] The Housemaid 하녀 (2010) did really well."
Speakers tried to remain optimistic, suggesting that while the market for foreign-language titles may have contracted or become more difficult, at the same time US audiences are increasingly open-minded and willing to try new genres and platforms.
But they held little particular hope for Asian films in North America.
"Indian films are doing pretty, but box office wise they are not as spectacular as they were a few years ago. Maybe more physical goods got out, but it seems that producers were able to control the global release pretty well. I'm not sure why those results have tapered off, maybe there are more releases," said Arentz.
"CJ America and [China Lion Film Distribution Inc] are playing theatres that don't typically play foreign-language films, and they are both involved with AMC which is the number one theatrical circuit in the US, and the numbers, with a few exceptions, are pretty bad by and large. Wasn't the Communist Party anniversary film part of the China Lion line up? I can't imagine there would be too much audience for that.
"Asian cinema was a lot more exciting in the 1990s, at least for American audiences, the whole classic period of Hong Kong cinema in the 1980s took a while. But there have been exceptions. [Magnolia Pictures] had a very successful release of MIIKE Takashi 三池崇史's Thirteen Assassins 十三人の刺客 (2010)."
Tribeca's Gilmore found that an troublesome example. "[Unfortunately] Thirteen Assassins gave the idea that companies could buy Asian genre films and that they would work, and there have been a lot of failures that cost a lot of money," he said.
"But there is also the sense that there is a lot of opportunity to do things. I'm really interested in BRIC films and think that there is a number of films from the BRIC [from Brazil, Russia, India, China] countries that should have audiences and can find audiences. They actually have a spectrum of aesthetic to them. It is not just about one kind of Indian film, or one kind of Chinese film. And I think that maybe there will be some gateways that open for films that walk the line between mass distribution and niche distribution. We are constantly figuring out what are the strategies that go between the two, how to platform it, without over-spending on marketing."
Ryan WERNER, from IFC Films said: "For a lot of the Asian films that we've done, for whatever reason we've not been able to get them out as quickly as we'd like. And they are already on DVD in some market in the world. And I think, more than other audiences, this kind finds the DVDs quicker than others, and that definitely has an impact.
"We are now working on Trishna (2011), an Indian-set movie by Michael WINTERBOTTOM, and it is going to be release at or before its release in India. We are working with a lot of these SE Asian marketing companies that have worked on these other films."
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