The Movie Lovers

The world makes out all right at the International Film Festival

CP:Some films were born to die--to be assassinated, even. But in general, what would it take for some of these producers and distributors to recognize the MSPIFF as a beneficial place for them to market their wares?

RICH: This is an age-old question. Either the heads of these companies believe a festival is building an audience or they believe it's stealing box office. There's nothing you can do.

PERANSON: You can kidnap their children and it still wouldn't matter: The penny-pinchers are in charge, and you have to deal with them on their terms. If a distributor doesn't want to give a film to a particular festival, maybe it's because a director had a bad experience there--a bad meal or whatever. Who knows? Maybe the festival misshaped a print three years ago and the distributor is still holding a grudge.

 

Kiarostami--Now More Than Ever

CP:It's probably fair to say that Miramax changed everything in the late '80s and early '90s in terms of the distribution of foreign films in the United States.

WILDER: What Harvey Weinstein at Miramax did more than anyone was to shift the import game toward the business of catering to upscale suburbanites--and flattering them. Weinstein reasons quite correctly that if you like NPR and Asian-fusion cuisine, you'll probably like the latest works of Giuseppe Tornatore [Cinema Paradiso] as well. But to suggest, as Jonathan Rosenbaum does, that Weinstein should be walking down to the ATM to hand Abbas Kiarostami his foreign sales check is as poignantly naive as a "Kucinich--Now More Than Ever" sticker.

CP:Miramax, rather late in the game, granted three of its films to the MSPIFF, including Takeshi Kitano'sZatoichi, which it picked up in Venice last year and also screened at Sundance. TH!NKFilm is a company that's known for being a good deal more benevolent to smaller festivals than Miramax. This year it's giving six films to the MSPIFF.

TAUBIN: TH!NKFilm is a really smart company. I know they worked really hard to create a regional audience for [Gus Van Sant's] Gerry by packaging it with some of Van Sant's short films. I can't imagine why other indie distributors aren't interested in Minneapolis, which has a reputation for being a sophisticated film town. When I worked a bit with the High Falls Film Festival in upstate New York, I was surprised to discover that distributors were charging rental fees for films. As Mark said, festivals have become an alternate distribution network--a source of income for companies whose films may be too risky to release.

PERANSON: Not all festivals offer screening fees. The Cleveland Film Festival is giving an award to TH!NKFilm on their closing night--which seems a bit beyond the call of duty to me.

RICH: You have to keep good relations with distributors and sales agents if you want to get early access to films. But you don't have to be their bitch, if you know what I mean.

TAUBIN: I find it interesting that we're having this discussion at the exact moment when so many people are talking about an enormous shift in the distribution of specialized films. Right now there are people in the industry who are looking at schemes to open a film in one or two cities in a theater, release it on DVD, and air it on specialized cable networks--simultaneously. The idea is that the cable networks will advertise, the DVDs will sell, and people who need to leave the house on dates will go to see the film in a theater. Sarah Eaton from the Sundance Channel told me yesterday that DIG!, the Sundance documentary prize-winner, is opening in one New York theater in the fall at the same time that it comes out on DVD and airs on the Sundance Channel. That is a very peculiar model, but it's one that people are beginning to think a lot about. And I think it has the potential to render a lot of film festivals irrelevant.

COWGILL: Well, festivals may become irrelevant from the distributor's point of view, but not from the audience's point of view. What I've noticed is that people are still yearning to share new cinema with other people in a discrete, localized setting. A film festival provides that experience of communal discovery. Certainly DVDs have hurt repertory cinema, but I don't think they have hurt festivals. Not yet, anyway.

CP:Well, here's something that could certainly hurt festivals: the electronic distribution of cinema by satellite from studios to chain-owned digital theaters. Most likely this development is just around the corner, and most likely it'll allow the big players to continue consolidating their power at the expense of the little ones.

PERANSON: As for whether people see a movie on film in a theater or at home on video: I don't think most people care all that much. Even most cinephiles are content to trade tapes and discs amongst themselves, especially as actual film becomes increasingly rare. With DVD, everything gets released somewhere: No need to rue the fact that certain films aren't coming to your hometown; you can buy the DVD on the internet. As DVD distribution becomes more prevalent, I think it could actually benefit film festivals, since the risk of a festival screening to a distributor becomes irrelevant if there's no theatrical run to worry about. And when films become available immediately, festival programmers will be forced to broaden their horizons to include more surveys of national filmmaking, more director retrospectives, more historical programs.

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