By Jesús Silva
Cécile Salin, Head of Acquisitions of Diaphana Distribution, shared with us the particularities of her job as an independent film distributor in France.
While acknowledging the important measures implemented by the French government to tackle the crisis this year, Salin points out the urgency to think about the consequences of the pandemic in the near future.
Could you give us an overview of your company’s history and setup?
Diaphana Distribution was founded in 1989 by Michel Saint-Jean. We have been distributing films for over 30 years, while working in production for the last 20 — the first film we produced was Harry, He’s Here to Help (2000) by Dominik Moll. We release around 12 films every year, and more than half of them are French-speaking. We focus on acquiring quality arthouse cinema for a large audience, trying to pick up films in festivals like Cannes, Venice, Berlin … As a company, we have two main targets: finding new talents and developing long-lasting relationships with our directors.
At the moment, we are developing three films with our production branch, and we are also involved in the co-production of the new Lukas Dhont film. For years, we have been attending co-production markets to poll films. We don’t have a sales company attached to our brand, like a lot of our competitors in France, so we are basically attending markets to read scripts and find projects at the same time as our competition. We don’t usually go on buying at this stage, but I have the feeling that, from now on, we are going to be involved in more co-productions, also of non-French-speaking titles.
In your opinion, what are the particularities and challenges of the French market for film distribution?
We have around 4,200 screens across the country, which is huge. France has more independent cinemas than Germany, where there is almost the same number of screens, but a lot of them are located at multiplexes. The network of independent cinemas in France allows us to have a real circuit for arthouse films. Another particularity of the French market is that local films represent 40-50% of the admissions every year. Actually, during the pandemic, the share of French films was even higher due to the lack of American blockbusters. It is also interesting to note that there is space for all kinds of distributors in the market: the ones like us, focusing on arthouse films for a wide audience, the ones making pure arthouse and those releasing more commercial titles.
As for the challenges, it is similar to other territories. Right now, we have to speak about the pandemic, which has accelerated some trends that were already present in the market. The big streaming platforms were not so strong in France as in other countries, but they have grown up a lot recently. I think we may have to rethink our media chronology for the future. There is a balance to find if we want to remain competitive.
What do you think is the role of a film distributor?
Distributors are essential, especially nowadays, when there is so much content available on cinemas, platforms, TV, YouTube, … The role of film distributors is to help the audience navigate all this content. We speak to the press and work on promotion to create awareness about the titles. When people see our logo on a film, they know what it means. For us, it is really about bringing a large audience to watch arthouse films, trying to make them curious about cinema. We often release films that deal with important topics, because we believe cinema is also a great way to express ideas and try to change things. This is why I think film distribution is important.
How do you usually approach your marketing strategy? Can you give us an example of a successful promotional campaign for a European film that you had in the past?
Apart from the usual promotional materials, we try to focus on the specific themes of the films. In every project, we try to establish partnerships with associations, create pedagogical kits for schools, … I would mention the example of In the Name of the Land (Edouard Bergeon, 2019), a film about the suicide of a farmer, starring Guillaume Canet. We knew it was an excellent film, but we needed to attract people. We worked a lot on the marketing, engaging with local associations and organizing more than 400 press screenings in little towns across France. It was four months of work before the release, and the film made almost 2 million admissions. It was one of the most special and successful campaigns we had so far. Girl (2018), the first feature by Lukas Dhont, was also a good example. The director came on a long tour with us, which was also crucial for the promotion.
What is usually the split of income for your films in terms of windows? How is it evolving?
70% of our income comes from theatrical distribution, 13.6% from video and VOD, 7% from TV and the rest from additional sources. It is important to mention that, for French films, producers hold the TV rights, so it really changes the numbers. As for the current trends, SVOD is becoming more important, while DVD is decreasing.
What measures were put in place to help distributors during the pandemic, and how will it affect the circulation of independent films in the near future?
Talking about specific support during the pandemic, the government announced various measures: an increase in the Support Fund for distributors by the CNC, a bonus for the films affected by the curfew, support for certain non-French-speaking titles, the reimbursement of a part of the P&A costs for films that were released right before the lockdown or scheduled for the following months, and an Extra Solidarity Fond. All these measures are great, but some of them are still to be paid.
The CNC tried to arrange something for the reopening of cinemas, in terms of controlling who will be allowed to release which films and when, so the competition is not that harsh. There was also a discussion in order to organise a “white week” (during one week, only the films that were already released in October could be relaunched). But there were too many different opinions and, unfortunately, both of those initiatives collapsed.
Even though the situation now is very tough, the question should be: “how will it look like in one year?”. In 2020, the number of admissions in France went down from 200 million to 70 million. What will happen next year? If there are fewer admissions there will be less money in the CNC, which means less support for production, distribution, … I’m more worried about the repercussions the pandemic will have in the following years.
At the moment, are you releasing some of your films directly on VOD and TV or postponing all your titles?
We cannot go directly on VOD or TV because this year we have only French titles, so the producers decide if they want to go straight to other windows. We did postpone everything during the lockdown. If cinemas reopen on 19 May, as the government announced, we would release 3 films until July: Under the Stars of Paris (Claus Drexel, 2020), A Night Doctor (Elie Wajeman, 2020) and The Rose Maker (Pierre Pinaud, 2020). As for other titles, we have a clear stream of releases but without specific opening dates. We are also waiting for the Cannes selection announcement.
On a more personal note, what keeps you motivated to do this job, and how do you see the future?
I’m just a film-lover, and I truly enjoy this job: discovering films at festivals, reading scripts, meeting people, … When you love films, you just want to convince other people that these are important, a great way to see life from another point of view. I know the future is uncertain, but I want to believe that cinema will survive. We need to dream in these times.