By Jesús Silva
We caught up with Régine Vial, Head of Distribution at French outfit Les Films du Losange, to discuss the history of the company and the situation of the market in times of pandemic. Despite the enormous effort made by French independent distributors, who managed to keep a constant stream of releases after the lockdown, the lack of Hollywood productions keeps hindering the recovery of the market, while painting an uncertain future for the upcoming months.
How did the company come about and what is your editorial policy?
The company was founded by Barbet Schroeder in 1962. It started producing Éric Rohmer films, such as La Boulangère de Monceau (1962) or La Collectionneuse (1967). I arrived in 1986, and soon after we launched the distribution branch. In the beginning, we only distributed the films we produced, but after some years we decided to acquire titles we liked from other companies, like Les Apprentis (1995) by Pierre Salvadori, or Breaking the Waves (1996) by Lars Von Trier. Over the years, we have been gathering a family of authors in our catalogue, trying to be very faithful to them.
What would you say are the main particularities of the French market when it comes to independent distribution?
The French market is a very healthy one for independent distribution. We have discovered many authors in France, young directors who became successful all over the world. We also have a lot of arthouse cinemas across the country, and that is very important for independent distribution. We now have some platforms and TV channels specialised in independent films. But more importantly, we have an audience for this kind of cinema, even within young people.
On the other hand, what are the main challenges you encounter?
The main challenge when distributing arthouse films is the fast-changing nature of the market. When we distributed The Celebration (1998) by Thomas Vinterberg, the film was in cinemas for four months. Now we are lucky if some titles manage to stay for two or three weeks. When you don’t have a big budget to release an arthouse film, the most efficient publicity is word of mouth, but to achieve that you need time. I think that was the main difficulty for us in recent years: films arrive in cinemas and after one or two weeks they are pushed away. It is very difficult for me because I feel deeply attached to the films. You work for months on a film and you want them to have a long run, but sometimes their lives are too short. One of the reasons is the high number of films being released every week, with American blockbusters taking most of the screens.
What was the impact of the lockdown for your work? Did you have to postpone many releases?
It was very disappointing. We were about to release Undine (Christian Petzold, 2020) on April 1, after its premiere at Berlinale. Everything was ready: we had a wonderful press, Christian Petzold and lead actress Paula Beer were with us in Paris doing interviews, all the promotional materials were ready… But the virus was spreading, so on March 13 we decided to postpone it for September. We never thought of going digital, because it was very important for us to have a theatrical release. Now we are working on the promotion with the same heart and passion as the first time, or even more, because we have to be courageous in front of these difficulties. The advertisement and the trailers in cinemas could be transferred to September, and the posters without the release date could also be reused. However, the press, some posters and other printings (with the original release date) were lost. We are now trying to meet with exhibitors and to convince the audience to come back to the cinemas. We have to fight to reconquer the audience. I don’t know how long it will take, but I’m sure it’s a matter of working together.
What is the situation at the moment? What are your expectations?
The situation is difficult. We are having only 30-40% of the admissions we would have in a normal year. However, independent distributors were very present and we have distributed a lot of arthouse and European titles during this summer. Over 30 independent films have been released in France between the end of June and the end of August. It was great to see the energy and motivation of all these independent distributors promoting their films in these difficult times. I’m sure all my colleagues have worked a lot and we all try to do our best. We are working hard to bring films to the audience. For example, we have released Epicentro (Hubert Sauper, 2020) on August 19: we organised a tour with the director in Pau, Bayonne, Strasbourg… And it was very successful, the theatres were full! The problem is that exhibitors don’t have big American films, apart from Tenet (Christopher Nolan, 2020), to help them bring more people to the cinemas.
Was there any specific support for distributors during the crisis? What measures do you think are needed?
During the lockdown, we received some support from the State (reduction of the social benefit charges, subsidies…), and after cinemas reopened, we could benefit from an increase on the automatic distributor’s support from the CNC, as well as an increase on the automatic support from Europe Creative Media. We now hope the CNC support, allowed from June to August, will last until the end of the year, along with the state support. There is still some uncertainty about the future, so that would be very helpful.
What is the usual repartition of income for the different windows?
At the moment, things are changing a lot, because the big streaming companies like Netflix and Amazon could be interested in our films, and that is something new. There are also some new platforms that emerged in recent years, like Universciné, MUBI or FilmoTV, which focus on arthouse cinema. The film economy is changing. However, for the moment, I would say 60% of the revenue comes from theatrical, 15% from home entertainment and 35% from TV and SVOD. But of course, it depends a lot on the film.
What was your most successful campaign for a European film?
I was very impressed with The White Ribbon (2009) by Michael Haneke, which won the Palme d’Or in Cannes. The director came to the Cinémathèque française for the premiere, and we organised some debates with him. It was very special to hear him talking about the film. It was like a real masterclass. We also organised a lot of screenings with highschools and young people. The press was fantastic and the film made 700.000 admissions, so we were very proud. Examples like this give us strength and courage during the more difficult times.
How did you start working in distribution? Are you optimistic about the future?
I was actually a teacher of French literature. I have always liked stories and discovering the world through films. I used to organise screenings with my students, and it made me realise that I wanted to work with cinema. To be a distributor means to bring films closer to people and help them change their views and understand other realities. I believe films really help to change the world.
I’m very optimistic about the future. I think human beings will always need films. I’m sure there will be hardships, like the times we are living at the moment, but I’m confident that we will manage. I also believe that theatres will survive. It gives us the opportunity to share a moment with other people. We laugh together, we cry together… So yes, I think we have a future.