“What’s the Deal With Independent Cinema?” was the theme of the Locarno Film Festival’s StepIn think tank where a select group of European and international industry players exchanged views and took part in working sessions to discuss the state of the indie film industry.
The unique event, now at it 11th edition, kicked off Thursday with an “out-of-the-box” introduction by feisty U.S. producer Ted Hope, known for his indie ethos even when he ran the film unit at Amazon Studios. “The indie film sector is f**** but it actually has a huge chance to build something and I actually think that is quite doable and the chances of building something better are quite high,” said Hope.
Hope’s provocative pep talk was followed by a more subdued conversation among the event’s keynote speakers who were former IFC Films president Arianna Bocco, Berlinale managing director Mariette Rissenbeek, and the British Film Institute’s Head of Research and Insight Rishi Coupland.
The themes of this year’s four StepIN roundtables were: the theatrical battlefield between independents, majors and streamers; how to protect the “biodiversity of content and voices” in the current production ecosystem; the dynamics of film festivals torn between commercial constraints and cultural considerations; and the state of gender equality and diversity representation five years after France’s Collectif 50/50 took to Cannes to protest the lack of female representation and diversity across the film industry.
Here are five takeaways:
U.S. Indies Are ‘Ripe For a Revolution‘
“We are very ripe for – you can use a lot of different words – an overhaul, a revolution, a reset. There are many ways to frame it,” said Bocco who last March suddenly stepped down as president of New York’s IFC Films after 17 years with the company owned by AMC Networks.
“For me, personally, I needed to take a step back and look at: Where are we? Why are we constantly feeling like we are going up the hill. It is not a good feeling. And it’s not a good place to be,” Bocco added. “I’ve spent my entire life in distribution. My job was to help artists. My job was to facilitate a business model that enriched artists; that helped their voices to be heard and seen and hopefully make a little bit of money in the meantime,” Bocco went on before specifying: “Coming from independent film in the United States, my personal goal was never: We are going make a ton of money, because we didn’t.”
But now “What’s been clear, and what everyone is really addressing is that that [indie] model is broken and it doesn’t exist…The independent film world is in disarray,” she noted.
As for the revolution, Bocco said “I think artists need to be part of the solution. Coming from independent film, most pf the producers, writers, directors that we worked with over the years were very much involved in a lot of their strategy and releases and trying to be as transparent as possible. Maybe if there is some kind of collaborative effort between artists and executives, and those that control the purse strings, maybe there is a way to move forward in trying to create a system that really works”
Theatrical Remains Key. And so Does Windowing.
The main topics discussed during the “theatrical battlefield” roundtable were ways to lure audiences back into movie theatres after the pandemic – a key one being “content curation” – along with a firm reiteration of the fact that theatrical remains a fundamental pillar of the indie industry. Europa Distribution director Christine Eloy, who was the session’s notetaker, cited the Danish Cinema Club curation scheme under which a selection committee picks ten quality films each season, offered at half price, in movie theatres as a success story. She also underscored the need for data sharing about how movies perform “locally, but also internationally.” Eloy also pointed out that with different types of windowing for films “audiences are confused.” There is a need to train audiences to go back into the “good old model” of theatrical by re-instating firm clear windowing after some windows collapsed during the pandemic.
Festivals Are Feeling Economic Pain And Don’t Want to Be Beholden to Sponsors
Costs of running a film festival “are rising very quickly due to inflation,” said Berlinale managing director Mariette Rissenbeek who noted that when she came on board five years ago the fest’s budget was roughly €29 million ($32 million), whereas after the pandemic, partly due to the rise in costs caused by the energy crisis, it’s now up to €34-35 million. “And I can’t see any way of financing it,” she noted. Rissenbeek pointed out that the Berlinale does get public funding, “but it’s about 33 or 34% of our budget.” So, for the remaining 65% or 66% portion they have to look elsewhere, sponsors being a primary source of funding they have to rely on. Which is becoming increasingly problematic. “I think roughly 20 years ago the Berlinale started working with sponsors in a very structured way,” Rissenbeek said. “And in those days the sponsors were primarily looking at: “How does it [the logo] look on the red carpet?; which stars are there? How can I use this visibility of my logo on the Berlinale website? How can I make people aware that we are working with glamour?” But these days, sponsors have much more defined marketing goals for their investment, which can be a burden. “If a sponsor has a different goal and wants you to do something different, your sponsorship department has to start working on that as well,” she said. “Maybe we have to look closer at which sponsors we have” and pick those “who think the same way we think, so we can use their support more in our line of where we want to go as a festival,” she added.
Development Is Key, Producers Are Also Creators, Bigger Budgets Are Vital
Development is key; it can make a good movie great, but [for indies] in the current [European] eco-system it is underfunded,” said Paris-based producer Nicholas Kaiser of Paradise City – whose credits include Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me by Your Name” – and was the note taker of the biodiversity of content round-table. Kaiser also pointed out that an integral aspect of indie industry is that “Producers can have an amazing impact on a film, personally, and not just in their financing and admin role. And they need to get more credit for this.” He also underlined that “question of budget is vital” citing Celine Song $35 million arthouse hit “Past Lives.” During the keynote conversations the BFI’s Rishi Coupland cited a recent study on the indie industry in the U.K. where “budgets are really flatlining.”
Gender Equality and Diversity Representation: Let’s Create a Network of Diversity Data Collectors
French film producer Laurence Lascary, whose De l’autre côté du périph’ company champions young auteurs from diverse backgrounds, said a primary concern is the need for training. “We all agreed that the industry still has a lot of progress to make in terms of [understanding] diversity,” she said. “When it comes to linguistics, what are we talking about when we say ‘diversity,’ ‘inclusion,’ or when we talk about ‘underrepresented’ communities?,” she added. “We believe in training so that everybody has the tools to create the change and also feel safe about it.” Lascary also underlined that diversity representation is not something that should take place just at a level of above-the-line, but should also be taking place at a level of those working in the below-the-line segments of the industry. Also, “data is fundamental,” Lascary pointed out. And It’s not easy to collect. “How can you engage producers to share their data? How can you collect data below-the-line?” A proposal was made to create a network of diversity data collectors across different countries and organisations.
- ‘We Are Very Ripe for an Overhaul, a Revolution, a Reset,’ Says Former IFC Films Exec Arianna Bocco on Indie Cinema at Locarno’s Think Tank: Five Takeaways
- Check all news and articles from the latest HOLLYWOOD updates.
- Please Subscribe us at Google News.