By Jesús Silva
In line with its core values and mission as a networking think-tank for independent film distributors, Europa Distribution launched a new edition of the “Distributors on the Move” programme in 2022. Since it was first introduced in 2019, and after a successful series of calls in the last years —which unfolded in a hybrid format, with both physical and online exchanges—, this initiative has become an attractive and highly rewarding experience for marketing professionals working in film distribution. The project offers participants the possibility to take part in an immersive exchange with a fellow company, fostering collaboration between distributors in different territories, with a special focus on strengthening their skills, discussing marketing strategies and sharing valuable insights for their job. During their stays abroad, participants are encouraged to join the daily workflow of the host companies, while learning new tools to be later implemented in their home countries. A total of ten distributors from seven different countries (Belgium, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland, Czech Republic and Finland) took part in the programme in the first semester of 2022.
Sylvie van den Broek, from Imagine Filmdistributie (Netherlands), and Marco Schärer, from DCM Film Distribution (Switzerland), kicked off the first round of exchanges this year, serving as tutors for each other in their respective territories. The marketing manager of the Swiss outfit visited Amsterdam at the beginning of May, committed to learning about the daily processes of fellow distributors, their struggles and the situation of their market after COVID-19. “I got a lot of inspiration from Imagine, which I already shared with my team in Switzerland. It’s always useful to receive some external input to freshen up your approach towards film distribution, and this was definitely the case”, said Schärer. The following month, van den Broek stayed for a few days in Zurich, where their conversations revolved around different ways to find new audiences and lead them directly to ticket purchases through digital marketing. “We both work in a very thorough way when it comes to analysing our marketing plans and looking for ways to reach people beyond our core audience”, as explained by the Dutch member. Apart from having a similar size and a shared catalogue, both companies are based in multilingual territories —Imagine operates in the Benelux area— and are forced to coordinate their release dates with their bigger neighbours. “We want to challenge release dates more than ever, instead of having the same as Germany, France or Italy. It is crucial to stand out. This was another topic on our agenda and something Imagine already applies in Belgium”, as pointed out by Schärer.
Simon Wullens and Beatrice Moia, marketing managers at Lumière Publishing (Belgium) and Wanted Cinema (Italy), respectively, also took part in the exchange this summer. It was Wullens’ second time as part of “Distributors on the Move”, after a previous exchange with Aeroflims in the Czech Republic. “It was even more positive than my first experience because we had more time, which allowed us to get better acquainted and learn more from each other”, according to the Belgian distributor, who got the chance to fully engage in the everyday work of his Italian counterpart. “I attended the premiere of Rimini by Ulrich Seidel with the team, so it was interesting for me to see how they handle this kind of events, which are usually smaller in Belgium”. As for Moia, her main takeaway was connected to their work with digital platforms. Like most Italian distributors during the first lockdown, Wanted Cinema rented a digital space to stream their films at MYmovies.it, one of the biggest cinema websites in Italy. They decided to drop it after a few months due to technical issues, but held on to the idea of implementing their own platform in the future. “When I met Simon, I discovered that Lumière Publishing has a very efficient streaming platform for their titles, so we asked them to get us in touch with the agency that built their site”, as explained by Moia. The Italian company is currently discussing the strategy to develop, organise and launch the platform in the near future. “If this comes to a fruitful conclusion, that would be a project that originated during the exchange”, added Wullens.
Sabina Coufalova, PR manager at Aerofilms (Czech Republic), visited Helsinki to spend a few days under the mentorship of Kati Malmivaara, Marketing Manager at Nordisk Film (Finland). Throughout their encounters, they delved into the challenges of releasing small-budget movies without substantial PR opportunities, forcing them to be creative and efficient in the way they market their titles. “For me, the most interesting thing was how Nordisk Film creates their film posters. They have a very specific and long process, with evaluation stages and audience tests to find the best artwork for a precise target group. That was really inspiring for me”, in Coufalova’s words, who also highlighted the social media work carried out by the Finish member on platforms like TikTok. They also examined the creative possibilities and ideas for the launching and promotion of horror and genre films. During Malmivaara’s stay in Prague, she got to visit many of the cinemas operated by Aerofilms, which are the main focus of the Czech outfit in terms of marketing. The Finish distributor was also fascinated by their approach to presenting new acquisitions to the rest of the team. “When screening new titles, they won’t have the entire team watching because they want fresh eyes when producing the marketing materials. I think it’s an excellent point that I have been considering implementing back home”.
The pair formed by Chelsea Syrett (Cinemien, The Netherlands) and Joanna Lipiecka (Tongariro Releasing, Poland) is another successful case born within the project. Both companies took part in the previous call of “Distributors on the Move”, which led to a collaboration that currently goes beyond the marketing departments. “There is more communication starting from the acquisition level. If Tongariro Releasing is distributing one of our titles, we stay in touch and discuss how to promote it, the best time to release it and what available subsidies we can apply for, among other things. However, marketing-wise is where we get most insights from each other”, clarified Syrett. The power of events was another big topic during their exchange, as both companies are facing a lack of filmgoers after the pandemic. Related to this concern, the Polish distributor —which specialised in LGBTQ+ cinema— revealed they are trying to shift their perspective from a focus on specific films to a wider view on a brand level. “That’s why we took part in Pride this year, organising different events to strengthen our company’s name”, said Lipiecka.
Brand-building and its potential as a marketing tool were also among the main themes tackled by the last pair, Seppe Vanhaecke and Anna Pawlowska, marketing specialists at Belgium’s Cinéart and Poland’s Gutek Film. Besides comparing their campaigns for shared European titles such as Tori and Lokita (Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne, 2022), Paris, 13th District (Jacques Audiard, 2022) and Holy Spider (Ali Abbasi, 2022), they widely discussed social media marketing and their work with influencers, trying to find a balance between constantly reinventing themselves and taking care of their traditional core audience. “Most European programmes for distributors are quite often focused on digital marketing, new tools and innovative approaches to connect with younger demographics. And this is amazing, but we need to remember our core audience, which is usually a bit older. We can’t forget about traditional media, magazines and outdoor advertisements, because that’s where they get their information about new releases”, said Pawlowska, who also shared that box-office numbers for arthouse films in Poland declined almost one-third after the pandemic, due to elder audiences not returning to the cinemas. When asked about his main learnings from the exchange, Vanhaecke pointed at Gutek’s original partnerships with different organisations, but mainly their refreshing way of communicating on social media: “I think they are one of the best independent distributors in Europe in terms of digital marketing, influencer campaigns and social media presence”.
All the participants expressed their desire to establish and nurture long-lasting relationships with their fellow distributors, aiming at staying in contact to discuss future campaigns, share materials or even visit each other again. They applauded the initiative as an educational, inspiring and profitable opportunity to visit other territories and cultures while obtaining first-hand insights from people performing the same work in different environments. As some participants emphasised, an essential part of the exchange is actually what goes beyond the work experience itself, such as discussing and spending time with colleagues in other countries, who might share the same frustrations and joys about cinema and film distribution.