Day 2, Session 4: The Future of Independent Film in the Streaming Era

“These are exciting and interesting times,” Michael Gubbins declared as he welcomed the afternoon’s panel of speakers. Taking the morning’s lessons on board, the conversation started with data: Dr Peter Merrington from The University of Glasgow presented findings from their three-year project, Beyond the Multiplex. Looking at viewer behaviours in the UK, the current statistics (which Merrington admitted would be out of date in six months due to the landscape changing so quickly) reveal that a quarter of on demand viewing is spent watching films and that broadcast TV is still the largest platform for film consumption in the UK. Despite the many obstacles that audiences face in getting to the cinema – be it cost, comfort or convenience – the study showed there was definitely an appetite for the cinema experience and environment as enhancing both a sense of self and wellbeing. 

Dr Peter Merrington, Research Associate, University of Glasgow, UK.

For Jakub Duszynski of Gutek Film, the distribution game continues to see uncertainty but has, thus far, remained resilient in the face of change. First there was piracy, then alternative content, and Duszynski survived them both. What was frustrating, however, was the lack of data with which to measure the impact of alternative content because he couldn’t then use the findings to predict audience behaviour as streaming hit. With the remaining options being either to let gossip and trade magazines predict his future or to wait and learn from experience as things progressed, Duszynski is determined to wait and see how things unfold. 

Frédéric Corvez of Urban Distribution International said that, like films versus TV series, there is a tension in the dynamic between indie companies versus giants like Netflix, Amazon, Disney & Universal – all of which are American companies, “There is no European platform except MUBI, which is like a cinema.”  Jon Barrenechea, VP of Marketing for MUBI, who has also worked across distribution and exhibition, sees the relationship between independent cinemas and MUBI as a partnership,” Streaming platforms use cinemas as a way to launch their own content but for us it’s a partnership, the theatrical experience also elevates content which is good for the life of the film after that.”

Left to right: Jon Barrenechea (VP Marketing, MUBI, UK), Dr. Peter Merrington (Research Associate, University of Glasgow, UK), Jakub Duszynski (Head of Acquisitions, Gutek Films, Poland), Mira Staleva (Exhibitor & Managing Director, Dom Na Kinoto/Sofia International Film Festival, Bulgaria), Frédéric Corvez (Sales Agent & Distributor, Urban Distribution International, France), Michael Gubbins (Partner, Sampo Media, UK)

The question, then, in an arthouse context, is about what’s best for each specific film, Barrenechea said,

“Every film we approach differently; we’ve done Day and Date, 2 week, 4 week, 16 week windows, with different results depending on the film, and we’re gathering that data. They are the types of films we are all here to look after. Are we here to protect our culture and how do we pragmatically get the films to as many people as possible? That should be the only conversation.”

For Mira Staleva, exhibitor at Dom Na Kinoto and Managing Director of Sofia International Film Festival, the cinema experience is stronger than ever. There is, however, a new generation coming up with different communication models. So, Staleva suggests, “Maybe in ten or twenty years we’ll be facing a different model but at the moment it’s only helping develop audiences… It develops the hunger, the appetite.”

Left to right: Frédéric Corvez (Sales Agent & Distributor, Urban Distribution International, France), Michael Gubbins (Partner, Sampo Media, UK)

The general attitude of the panel was that cinemas aren’t going to be a victim of on demand platforms and Gubbins suggested a positive solution might lie in the development of cinema curation online, “We should be encouraging policy, forcing transparency, and encouraging as much as possible putting public money into creating European platforms.” Staleva emphasised the importance of education and promotion while Barrenechea pointed to an economic problem that meant some smaller titles, such as this year’s Beanpole and Mati Diop’s new film, Atlantics – both of which screened to great acclaim at Cannes – aren’t getting the release or promotion they deserve.

Even so, lack of content is not a problem – if anything there are too many titles being released for cinemas to screen – and windows hold differing degrees of relevance in different markets. What is certain, however, is that we should all be working together in this area, using the strength of our network. 

Left to right: Daniela Elstner (Executive Director, Unifrance, France), Andrea Occhipinti (Distributor & Exhibitor, Lucky Red/Circuito Cinema, Italy), Eduardo Escudero (Exhibitor & Distributor, A Contracorriente Films, Spain), Susan Wendt (Managing Director, Trustnordisk, Denmark), Michael Gubbins (Partner, Sampo Media, UK)

A secondary panel continued the discussion by looking at The Essential Value of Cinema in Film Production. Daniela Elstner from UniFrance was also positive about the role of cinemas, “Curating is going to get the public. You know them and you know how to target them. You are going to get the public of tomorrow.” Andrea Occhipinti from Lucky Red/Circuito Cinema commented, “There is not one solution, there are many solutions,” a view shared by Trustnordisk’s Susan Wendt, “Every film is different and for every individual film there is a different plan and there might be a different way in different countries.” 

Resources are always a hot topic but collaboration and a redistribution of funds could help. After almost two days of inspiring stories about the breadth and depth of work across the network, Gubbins concluded, “When we look at what cinemas are doing there’s amazing innovation going on all the time; cultural diversity doesn’t happen with stuff people don’t see.”

Photographs courtesy of Joana Linda.