FNE together with Europa Distribution continues its Distributor of the Month series. In recognition of the hard work and excellence of European distributors and the common problems they face, especially in the transition to digitalization, we choose a distributor from each country covered by FNE each month.
We look at the challenges and the successes faced by those distributors who are members of Europa Distribution with a special series of interviews that offer insights that other distributors of European films can benefit from and a platform for the exchange of ideas.
This month we focus on Poland with an interview with Katarzyna Orysiak, Managing director of AP Mañana. She told FNE that in a market dominated by multiplexes such as Poland, the relatively large number of art houses are supported in various ways and even if there is never enough money, admissions are expected to grow.
Founded in 2001, AP Mañana is an established distribution company in Poland operating in a niche field distributing films from Latin America, Asia, Africa and Spain. The company also promotes Polish cinema abroad and organises two film festivals each year: Spanish Cinema Week and World Cinema Ale Kino+ Festival. AP Mañana recently launched itself as a sales agent company with its first title, Jacek Borcuch’s Lasting.
FNE: How does the market in your country differ from other countries? What is specific about the Polish market? How is independent distribution doing in your market today?
Katarzyna Orysiak: As in many other countries, the Polish market is dominated by the multiplexes which are investing in new cinemas all the time; at this moment every city with more than 100,000 inhabitants has at least one digital screen, usually more. Many small and local cinemas have closed in the past few years, but audience numbers in independent cinemas are gradually growing, reaching up to 14% of the market at the moment in terms of admissions.
We have a relatively large number of art house and local cinemas in comparison with other countries in the region. Most of them – almost 200, usually with from one to three screens – are connected within the Arthouse Cinema Network and supported by the Ministry of Culture through the National Film Archives, the goal of which is to increase the amount of artistically valuable European films as well as world cinema masterpieces.
Independent distribution is supported in various ways: from financial help for the cinemas, including partial financing of their digitalisation, and supporting the organising of film events in cinemas, to subsidising the distributors of art house films by covering distribution expenses as well as a proportion of promotion costs. Of course, taking into consideration the number of independent films that are being released, there is never enough money available, but without the existing help often it would not be possible to release many of the independent titles. Nevertheless audience numbers are expected to grow, especially now that small cinemas are more consciously using marketing and promotional strategies, creating loyalty programmes, working creatively on their programming and actively reaching out to the public.
Many small cinemas have only one screen and it’s very difficult to schedule independent movies there, but we are open to alternative schemes; our titles are often shown at special screenings or at Film Discussion Clubs, or only on selected days of the week in cinemas.
One of the major problems at the moment, especially for smaller distributors like AP Mañana that don’t show anything in multiplexes but only in art house cinemas, is digitalisation. Poland is in the middle of the process of digitalisation of the cinemas. Thanks to the help of the Polish Film Institute PISF more and more cinemas can now buy DCI projectors, but it’s still going slowly and it’s still an expensive investment for many of them. In general, digitalisation is significantly lowering distribution costs and making it possible to show and program more films, but the Polish market is still in that process of transition to digitalisation, and that has its disadvantages.
Since 35mm prints are becoming both more expensive and increasingly unavailable for more and more titles, and with partial digitalisation, independent distributors that want to show films in as many art house cinemas as possible without increasing distribution costs need to make crucial decision regarding the format. In many cases, this limits them to showing the films from Blu-Ray. But I see hope in digitalisation and a chance for independent distributors and independent films, as long as we manage to make it through the transition period.
How competitive is your market for European films (national and non-national)?
The Polish market is very competitive in general, especially from the distribution point of view. There are many small, specialised distributors that have entered the market in the last few years so we sometimes compete for the same titles and later for the cinemas at the time of the release. There are around seven to ten theatrical releases per week and not enough cinemas to show them all, so the booking of cinemas is essential. With two to three European releases per week it is difficult to get good schedules, especially outside of Warsaw, and to keep the films on screens for longer than two weeks.
There are two main distributors specialising in Polish cinema, mainly commercial movies, with good results and many hits. For small independent films it is sometimes difficult to find distributors, which can later show up as disappointing results at the box office.
What kind of films seem to work well with audiences in your market?
At the top of the box office are always big studio hits, blockbusters, animation films and obvious titles like The Hobbit or the new Tarantino. Many Polish movies are doing very well, mainly comedies, but also titles like the Oscar nominee In Darkness by Agnieszka Holland or You Are God by Leszek Dawid, which has a minimal international potential but for Polish hip hop fans was almost a generational experience and had the third best opening weekend of the last 20 years. In the independent sector, movies by known directors with a strong cast and positive reviews are usually popular. Big international festival awards don’t particularly help that much; usually it’s an interesting, well told story that counts.
What are the major areas that you focus on? (theatrical/DVD/VOD/TV distribution, production, exhibition...)?
We handle all the rights for the films we acquire, with theatrical distribution being the most important for us. However, as it’s almost impossible to recoup MG & P&A costs only from theatrical revenues, we do rely on TV sales so our titles need to be shown in cinemas and promoted in order to make them attractive to the TV channels that we work with. In the past we released selected titles on DVD but DVD sales have fallen incredibly in the past two years, especially for auteur films, so we’re not releasing anything at present. We have started working with a VOD platform but we don’t focus on that area too much.
What is your film acquisition policy?
Since our very beginning, AP Mañana focused on films from Latin America, Asia and Africa. It’s quite an unusual focus for a European distribution company, but we thought that almost everybody goes for North American or European films so we decided to create a niche, which seems to be working quite well so far. We’re especially proud of showing Latin American titles to the Polish audience and creating a ‘hype’ for titles from this region. We have a strong brand image on the Polish market and we are known for releasing quality films so that many journalists and cinemagoers check out our titles simply because they’re being distributed by AP Mañana. We acquire only around eight films per year, and it’s always a difficult decision, but our films need to be strong in terms of artistic vision, preferably winners of festivals, by good directors and – most importantly – we need to like them ourselves. We are ready to fight for the titles that we believe in, to some extent, but reasonable prices are crucial.
What films have been your biggest hits?
Our biggest hits in terms of admissions are MadeinUSA and Milk of Sorrow, both by Claudia Llosa, Lucia Puenzo’s XXY, Graham Coleman’s Tibet: A Buddhist Trilogy and Even the Rain by Icíar Bollaín.
What are your upcoming releases and how will you promote them?
We’re planning to release theatrically three titles during the upcoming spring and summer: Fill the Void from Israel, Wadjda from Saudi Arabia and Once Upon a Time Was I, Veronica from Brazil. These films are all quite different so we’re planning to work on each one very separately, with different promotional attitudes, depending on what works best for each of them.
As we tend to do with our world titles, all of these three films had their Polish premieres at our World Cinema Ale Kino+ Festival in November of last year, a festival that we organise together with Ale Kino+ TV channel. Every year during the festival we show only 20 carefully selected films from Asia, Latin America and Africa and in the festival program we include three or four titles from our upcoming distribution schedule. The festival gives us the opportunity to test the films, check the audience reaction, give the films extra publicity and create a word of mouth buzz that helps with the release. We have high hopes for Wadjda, which, even though a Saudi Arabian film is not a natural choice for a Polish audience, won the Audience Award at our most recent festival.
AP Mañana is a leading distribution company of art house cinema in Poland, specialising in films from Latin America, Asia, Africa and Spain. Since its founding by Piotr Kobus in 2001, AP Mañana has worked with films by eminent world filmmakers, including among others, Semih Kaplanoĝlu, Claudia Llosa, Asghar Farhadi, Brillante Mendoza, Lisandro Alonso, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Álex de la Iglesia, Jia Zhang-ke, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Jasmila Žbanić. So far AP Mañana has released theatrically 50 titles.
AP Mañana organises two film festivals each year – Spanish Cinema Week and World Cinema Ale Kino+ Festival – that allow the company to select the best films for distribution and serve as promotion platforms for its theatrical releases.
AP Mañana also specializes in the promotion of Polish cinema abroad - organising festivals, retrospectives and promotional campaigns for new and classic Polish films, mainly in Latin America.
At the moment AP Mañana is starting its new activity as a sales agent. Its first title is Lasting, the latest film by Jacek Borcuch, whose previous movie All That I Love was a breakout success at 2010 Sundance Film Festival and was Poland’s official Oscar entry in 2011. Lasting had its world premiere in the World Dramatic Competition at 2013 Sundance Film Festival and its European premiere at the 2013 IFF Rotterdam in the Spectrum section.
Katarzyna Orysiak, managing director of AP Mañana, started her career in the film business in 2007 working for the Warsaw Film Festival as Head of Guest Services. She has been working with AP Mañana from 2008, starting as a booking specialist. She’s the main programmer of both the Spanish Cinema Week and the World Cinema Festival.
Chełmska 19/21 00-724 Warsaw, Poland Phone/Fax: +48 22 851 10 97