CINEUROPA: European sales agents discuss the challenges of selling arthouse titles during COVID-19

By Davide Abbatescianni / Cineuropa



Entitled “Which Films Still Travel?”, the talk formed part of the Producers on the Move programme organised by the European Film Promotion.

On Tuesday 18 May, the European Film Promotion (EFP) hosted the first talk of its “Co-Producing in Tough Times” programme, entitled “Which Films Still Travel?”, as part of the 2021 Producers on the Move programme. In short, the panel examined the current situation of sales agents following the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic and explored how the sales strategies of rightsholders and producers had changed as a result of the healthcare crisis.

Moderated by Romanian producer Ada Solomon (linked with Golden Bear winner Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn [+]), the discussion gathered together the likes of Hédi Zardi of LuxboxSusan Wendt of TrustNordisk and Nicolas Brigaud-Robert of Playtime. Following a few opening words from EFP representatives Markéta Šantrochová and Sonja Heinen, Solomon introduced the four industry speakers before asking whether festivals should be considered a luxury or a necessity in today's COVID-hit world, and how these events are still able to place a spotlight on arthouse titles and attract potential streamers.

Zardi insisted that it was still essential for films to be placed in the right festival, as this helps to “launch the DNA” of the film, and that, despite initial scepticism over the Berlinale's digital format, the market had responded positively to films such as Dénes Nagy's Natural Light [+]. Wendt spoke about their successful title Another Round [+] by Thomas Vinterberg and their distribution strategy comprising the Cannes Label selection, film premieres in Toronto and San Sebastian and a theatrical release in September. She admitted that they didn't experience any particular issues in sales terms, for this reason they concentrated their efforts on obtaining reviews and creating a buzz around the film. She highlighted the fact that festivals are still essential, but, in the case of genre movies, attending markets is more important than obtaining a “festival stamp.”

Brigaud-Robert wondered how possible it actually was to launch the careers of unknown directors at digital festivals. He agreed that there had been some word of mouth circulating virtually, and that certain titles had been well-received during the Berlinale, but he also admitted: “I didn't find a solution myself. It's still an open question.” In addition to the above, he spoke about the difficulties experienced when negotiating with streamers such as Netflix in the early days, and he noted how things had changed over the past five years or so: “Now they [the streamers] are desperate for festival strategies. And they do have festival strategy conversations with us.” Things have changed to such an extent that streamers are now saying that they’d be “really interested if the title were in a festival.” He added that streamers had basically gone from being “strong enemies” to “good allies.”

Next, Zardi said that the pandemic had driven them to request greater flexibility from producers vis-à-vis release dates in the different territories. Luxbox, for example, had allowed for the earlier release of one particular title in the US because it was the right window for them. Wendt concluded that maintaining this level of flexibility on a title-by-title basis would be crucial for the future, despite the additional challenges that come with higher piracy risks.

A short Q&A session rounded off the panel. You can watch the full panel here.