“What kids want” by Birgit Heidsiek

The future audience of art house films is determined by our children. Film education is an essential element for audience building. But it is not easy to get the young audience interested in animated art house films as distributors from the United Kingdom, Belgium, Poland, and Switzerland reported at the annual conference of Europa Distribution in Estoril. Several case studies gave an inside look at the release of animated art house films in different territories.

„We help children to develop their cinematic culture“, states This Bay from The Magic Latern http://www.magic-lantern.org/category/concept_en/club-cinema-enfant_en/?lang=en , an international cinema club for children aged 6 to 12. „Our aim is to provide cinema education and get them interested in all kind of films.“ Founded in 1992, meanwhile Swiss-based The Magic Latern has about 40,000 members around the world in European countries such as Spain and France as well as in Morocco, Palestine, Senegal, Argentina, Mexico, and Georgia. For a membership fee of 30 euro the children can see nine movies per year. „Every month we are showing films for different age groups“, underlines This Bay. The programme is not limited to animated movies, it also offers black and white films, silent movies and live-action films. „A silent movie such as ‚The Adventures of Prince Achmed‘ with piano accompaniment shows children how music can change the mood in a movies.“

In addition to the cinema screenings The Magic Lantern develops educational projects and activities for kindergarten, primary and secondary school. By watching animated short films children learn how a stop motion film is made or how a projector in the cinema works. The internet series „The Cat Who Wanted to Make a Movie“ http://www.magic-lantern.org/the-cat-who-wanted-to-make-a-movie/?lang=en guides the young audience through the entire process of filmmaking; from the initial idea up to its release in the cinema. „We are giving the children the tools to see if a film is good or bad“, sums up This Bay.

„The kids know what they want to see“, emphasizes Jakub Duszynski, Head of Acquisitions at the Polish distribution company Gutek Films http://www.gutekfilm.pl/history which launched the children‘s label Gutek Kids four years ago. „We are releasing art house films such as ‚Antichrist‘ or ‚Amour‘, says Jakub Duszynski,“ while the US studios make a half up to one million admissions with animated movies like ‚Monster University‘ or ‚Planes‘. We want to have a piece of the cake.“ Among the children movies he distributed in Poland were „U the Unicorn“ and the French animated filmMia and the Migoo“ by Jacques-Rémy Girerd „If you want to have a successful film, it has to be about animals“, relates the distributor. „We even risked the costs of dubbing and invited the exhibitors.“

The Irish-French-Belgian animated fantasy film „The Secret of Kells“ stayed for six weeks on screens but had not much more than 10,000 admissions. „What is it what kids want?“, points the distributor out. „I am not sure that the kids want children-friendly slow food films.“

The „David versus Goliath“ battle of health food which can‘t compete with huge fast food chains such as McDonalds is reflected in the cinema sector as well. „The children get the publicity and know exactly what they want to see“, stresses Daniela Elstner, Head of the world sales Doc & Film International http://www.docandfilm.com/. „It is difficult to market a film to the parents.“ Even educational programmes for primary schools don‘t often have many admissions. „The parents didn‘t even know that the films were released“, adds Jakub Duszynski. According to This Bay it is for The Magic Latern not always easys to find its way into schools. But there are also positive examples like in Belgium where non profit organizations (e.a. Les Grignoux, Lessen in het Donker) make each year a selection of movies for which they provide pedagogical support. The teacher can bring his class to the theater and discuss the film afterwards with his students. „That is a good way to bring kids to the cinema and also to educate them in terms of movies, to make them curious about it“, underlines Christine Eloy, Manager of Europa Distribution. „It could be a solution to have that kind of organization in other countries. They can certainly create interest among our kids.“

„What can an independent distributor do to compete in cinemas?“, adds Edward Fletcher, Managing Director of UK based film distribution company Soda Pictures http://www.sodapictures.com/ which created a brand with a children‘s cinema club. „The animated feature film „A Cat in Paris“ went to over hundred screens but the financial bottom line was very small. „We are not rushing to to do another children‘s movie“, says Edward Fletcher. „It is too expensive for a small market like the UK.“ On top of it, the distributor was not pleased with the dubbing which was done by the world sales. „If you are not dubbing a film yourself, you have this kind of problem.

Meanwhile in Norway, „A Cat in Paris“ had 32,000 admissions. „The title is very important“, explains Unnur Sande, Co-Manager of the distribution company Arthaus http://www.arthaus.no/. „‘Cat‘ and ‚Paris‘ works. We have to reach the parents.“ The Academy Award nomination for the best animated feature was quite helpful. But the film also has some negative impacts. „It is too violent for kids and school screenings“, states Unnur Sande, „and it is not based on a known character.“ As Head of marketing, she knows how to position a children‘s movie: „Do extensive pre-screenings and release the film far away from any Disney movie.“

More that 30 years experience with quality movies for children and young people has Felix Vanginderhuysen, Managing Director of the Belgian non-profit organization Jekino http://www.jekino.be/ which is releasing 8 to 10 films per year. „The distributor acquires animated films as well as live action films for teenagers.“ Among the recent releases in Benelux was „The Great Bear“ which won the jury prize and audience award at the Cinekid Film Festival http://www.cinekid.nl/ in Amsterdam. „Since there are only ten art house cinemas left in Belgium, we also have to go to the multiplex cinemas“, explains Felix Vanginderhuysen. If a French distributor dubs the film, the distributor takes over the French dubbing. For „The Great Bear“ as well as for „Pettson and Findus“ Jekino didn‘t get any MEDIA support because they had not enough points. „I hope low budget quality films for children will be granted too“, concludes the children‘s film expert. „We have to build up our future audience“.