By Isabella Weber
Last month Europa Distribution was part of two major events that open the European film industry’s spring calendar: Cartoon Movie (9-11 March) and Sofia Meetings (17-24 March). For the association it was the occasion to experiment for the first time with all-digital workshops. The gatherings, however virtual, felt to all participants as friendly occasions to meet again after a long and challenging year. During both workshops, distributors exchanged information, advices and best practices.
On March 8th, in the scope of the 2021 edition of Cartoon Movie that this year took place online, Europa Distribution organized a workshop dedicated to independent distributors who already work with animation or are interested in discovering more about this specific genre. The attendees discussed the details of their recent animation releases.
Rose-Marie Strand from Folkets Bio shared her insights on the releases of The Breadwinner by Nora Twomey (2017) and Wolfwalkers by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart (2020) in Sweden. In order to have something that could stand out in terms of marketing, the company created a “Cartoon Saloon Trilogy Package” by putting these two titles alongside with the previously released film by the same director of Wolfwalkers, Song of the Sea (2014), that had also been presented at Cartoon. Having all three titles proved effective also in negotiations with cinemas.
Being Wolfwalkers an Apple title, cinemas who chose to screen it only had a two weeks’ exclusive window before the film was also available on the Apple+ platform, but data do not indicate any significant drop in the theatrical admission related to presence of the film on Apple+. What did make a difference however were the additional covid restriction that further limited the cinemas’ capacity in Sweden, causing a drop in the admissions.
With The Elfkins by Ute von Münchow-Pohl (2020) Norwegian distribution company Storytelling did manage to find a release date in October when cinemas were open, although of course on a limited capacity. Frank Johnsen, Head of distribution, considered the outcome of the release with 12.000 admissions a success, given the special circumstances, and was also pleased about the performance of the film on platforms following the theatrical release. In terms of marketing Storytelling chose for this particular title to address both children, through a dedicated campaign on Snapchat and using YouTube ads, and parents via Facebook, while also using outdoor advertising with film banners on buses and in-cinema advertising.
Demonstrating the power of collaboration with a practical case study, the two Belgian distributors Adeline Margueron from Le Parc Distribution and Arnaud de Haan from Cinéart explained how their companies collaborated on the releases of Yakari by Xavier Giacometti (2019) and of Calamity, a Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary by Rémi Chayé (2020). A few years ago, both companies realized that, instead of fighting over the same titles, they could combine their strength to achieve better results. Since Cinéart operates in all BENELUX territories, they would handle bookings and sales, while Le Parc could use its expertise to organize special screenings and events to connect the film with the local audiences.
Discussing about Calamity, Margueron voiced her frustration with the great instability of the market during the time of the release, due to the unforeseeable evolution of the covid situation and to the limitations that went with it, causing the postponement or cancellation of several events and the sudden reduction of seats available for the screenings, severely affecting the admissions.
To compensate for the reduction of in-presence events, Le Parc organized several online activities using the platform Cinépilou that they created to screen animation films online in a specific time window and providing families with a toolkit of activities related to the film they could all do together, enjoying the experience from their couch. On Cinépilou tickets are sold directly by the cinemas partnering with the project so they can be included in the profits.
Echoing Margueron’s frustration when discussing about the release of Yakari de Haan admitted that, although the film was Cinéart biggest success in 2020 so far, the results did not match the expectations, based on the popularity in the French territories of the comic book the film is based on. Covid restrictions heavily impacted the number of admissions.
Seizing the chance to be finally in the same “room” with distributors from other countries, the participants took the opportunity to discuss about the Covid-situation and to take inspiration from others’ best practices. Eduardo Escudero, founder of Spanish company A Contracoriente Films, explained that although this is not a good time to release big films, A Contracoriente is finding opportunities to release small films who could benefit from the reduced competition, and to bring back classics to the big screen. For Escudero supplying the product to cinemas who are currently losing more money by staying open than they would if they were closed, all to give a positive signal, is also a matter of moral duty.
On March 17th over 20 distributors, members of Europa Distribution, attended the online workshop organized in partnership with Sofia Meeting to discuss the current situation of independent distribution in Europe.
Laurent Dutoit (Agora Film, CH) member of Europa Distribution’s Board, illustrated the initiatives taken by the association over the last year to bring awareness on the struggle of the sector to the institutions at European level, working side by side with other networks such as the FIAD (International Federation of Film Distributors’ Associations) to collect examples of what is working in some countries and bringing ideas on how to restructure existing support schemes to better support independent distributors in this difficult moment.
During the discussion several members explained how they have been joining forces with other distributors at local level to achieve different goals: to lobby, pushing governments to include film distribution among the sectors to support (Bulgaria), or to have a stronger online presence, using the same VoD platforms (Belgium).
Many companies have been experimenting with different solutions to have their films released online, often working closely with cinemas to include them in the process and to reach their local audiences. While with some titles encouraging results were obtained, the general impression was that even in the present circumstances VoD releases are often not financially viable. On one side there are the usual problems like piracy, acutely felt in countries like Bulgaria, Italy and Romania, and a general unwillingness from the audience to pay for online contents, and on the other there is what Simon Wullens (Lumière Distribution, BE) describes as the consumers’ “digital fatigue”, understandably kicking in after a long period of digital living.
Online events have also been frequently organized to launch films online and Samantha Faccio (Tucker Film, IT) remarked that while they have proved to be an excellent tool to stay connected with the audience and engage it, the amount of work and preparation they required does not unfortunately translate into satisfactory sales.
From both workshops it was clear that independent distributors are running the extra mile to stay afloat in this pandemic. Despite the evident difficulties, most participants acknowledged that whether it’s a different way of exchanging with partners, other distributors, and exhibitors, or a new way to connect with audience, there are some positive achievements they will carry with them in the post-pandemic future. In the hope this future is near.
Europa Distribution will be back in the workshop scene this summer, hoping that the pandemic situation will finally allow in-presence events!