‘We Need Public Funds to Keep on Going,’ European Distributors and Exhibitors Say at UniFrance Rendez-vous

Reflecting on a heretofore-unseen existential threat, the film distributors and exhibitors speaking at a round-table presented as part of UniFrance’s Rendez-vous With French Cinema on Tuesday echoed a shared refrain: To ensure a robust return to normal, whenever that time might come, industry actors needed immediate financial relief.

Moderated by industry analyst Michael Gubbins, the panel brought together distributor Enrique González Kuhn (Caramel Films), exhibitor Edna Epelbaum (CineVital), exec Margherita Chiti (Palomar) and marketing director Züleyha Azman (Kino Rotterdam Cinema). Each participant detailed the particulars of their specific situations while agitating for a common cure.

Though theaters remain open in Spain, the particularities of that territory – where mainstream imports account for nearly 80% of the market, and those same international actors handle most popular local releases – have tied exhibitors into a kind of Gordian knot. “The audience doesn’t come out except for those big [mainstream releases],” explained González Kuhn. “The cinemas are open but we don’t have the films.”

Throughout Europe, art-house distributors face a difficult impasse: Even if they wanted to recoup sunk costs by selling to VOD, it’s difficult to create value around smaller titles without a well-publicized theatrical release. “If you don’t release the movie theatrically,” added González Kuhn, “nobody knows [about it].”

As Chiti explained, should Italian theaters meet optimistic projections and reopen this spring, they’d face an exceedingly short window before the traditionally fallow summer season – meaning a theatrical restart is not likely before September. When that does happen, Chiti hopes to see stronger partnerships between distributors and exhibitors, specifically with regards to theatrical windows.

“There will be a huge amount of films… when the cinemas reopen,” said Chiti. “We need to find room for everyone [by] maybe changing the programming windows… to be a little more flexible and collaborative.”

Of course, until that day comes, the players need to remain afloat. And as Epelbaum put it, a renewed sense of reassurance could help steady a frazzled acquisition market. “The more we are afraid of being closed down… due to financial reasons, the less exhibitors and distributors will be willing to take risks on smaller films, on films with less visibility,” she said. “Right now, we need public funds to keep on going… If we don’t take the risk, the audience won’t [either].”

As the panel drew to a close, the participants made their needs clear. “In order to resist, maybe public television stations could buy movies from independents,” said González Kuhn. “We need cash to resist until September. We need money; instead of buying American films, maybe [broadcasters] could buy European ones.”

He added: “We need our audiences to come back. As soon as they do, we know how to fight. We’ve done it all our lives. But right now, this is the only way.”

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