We launch together with Europa Distribution a new chapter in our Distributor of the Month section focusing on new trends and challenges of film distribution. In the coming months we will talk with European distributors about the digital single market and the VOD, trying to understand how they see the future through these lenses.
This month we focus on the Polish company Gutek Film and we speak with Jakub Duszyński, Artistic Director and Head of Acquisitions, and with Marek Bién, Financial Controller and EU grants Coordinator.
Gutek Film was founded in 1994 to promote independent filmmakers and to distribute their films. The company has released almost 300 productions so far, which attracted over 12 m admissions in Poland. Gutek Film introduced and released many films by such eminent film directors as Pedro Almodovar, Lars von Trier, Mike Leigh, Jim Jarmusch, David Lynch, Steve McQueen, Darren Aronofsky or Wong Kar-Wai.
FNE: What impact would the digital single market have on your work?
Jakub Duszyński: It could interrupt our activities as we would not be able to operate on a territorial exclusive basis. Being members of the board of Europa Distribution, we are closely observing the developments in Brussels and actively taking part in the discussions.
Marek Bień: Our main concern is connected with one of the components of the DSM strategy, which is the reform of copyrights and particularly the idea of cross-border access, intending to improve circulation of European works and to allow the audience to get more access to European content on non-national level.
Although the Commission argues that geo-blocking is justified for the audiovisual sector and the reform won’t break territoriality because they realize how important it is for the film industry in Europe, we are afraid that the reform will touch on the territoriality principle and rights’ windows, because if a film comes online in one EU country and viewers in the other EU country also have access to the film at the same time, it is impossible to do without getting rid of geo-blocking.
As there is a limited number of viewers interested in European content, its distribution already carries high investment risk and if the VOD sector becomes pan-European this risk of loss will only increase. So, if a film is already out in another European country and has been put on a VOD platform available for Polish viewers, we would always double-think whether we should buy it or not. It means that many valuable, highly acclaimed and internationally awarded great European works will actually be at stake as, due to the limited market potential, we couldn’t afford to take the risk of releasing them theatrically.
We are afraid that some of the plans which are currently on the table will have the opposite effect to what the Commission wants. They expect more circulation and bigger audience for European films; if no distributors are going to buy it, who will promote the film? They also want non-national European productions to travel, but many people will go to global platforms run by major players like Netflix, ITunes or Amazon to watch titles they are familiar with and they know the names of actors or directors. There is a threat that only those major players will mostly benefit from the reform and it won’t be the European productions or companies.
FNE: How important is VOD for your business? Does it bring in an important part of your income?
Jakub Duszyński: We saw a major increase in VOD business in recent years and cooperate with major players on our market as well as observe further moves of Netflix and Amazon. As much as we feel our business focuses on theatrical releases, we know VOD will keep growing and we want to embrace the chance.
Marek Bień: Although we had an unexpected VOD revenue stagnation in 2015 comparing to the previous year, we believe that the trend remains the same and this sector will keep growing in the near future. However, we cannot say it brings in an important part of our business yet, as VOD constitutes less than 10% of our annual revenues.
FNE: Where do you see VOD five years from now?
Jakub Duszyński: We can imagine a lot of boutique operations coming from the VOD sector, human scale, curated services aiming at art house audience with a lot of interactive tools. We keep discussing our boutique VOD service.
Marek Bień: As we have hundreds of on demand services in Europe operating on a young, dynamic yet fragmented market, we can hear about problems like the lack of transparency in operating VOD platforms, lack of clarity in definitions in different countries, statistical problems etc. We think the market will be growing and most of these issues will be solved in the near future with an important role of the European Commission but it seems premature to do anything drastic in this area.
FNE: How can the VOD distribution for independent European films be improved?
Jakub Duszyński: While it cannot compete with major players with the quantity of titles, it can attract high end users with limited time resources who want an access to curated services guaranteeing access to the best selection of European bold cinema: something radically different than nowadays services, more like a development of services resembling MUBI.
FNE: What was your biggest hit in the last 12 months? Did you use any particular strategy?
Jakub Duszyński: We worked very hard on the release of Amy (by Asif Kapadia) and it paid back as we attracted over 150,000 admissions in Poland, turning the film into one of the top grossing documentaries in Poland ever. We premiered the film at the New Horizons Film Festival in Wroclaw and as the hype was great we released it right afterwards in the middle of summer, with little competition and freshly from UK initial release.
The film was not pirated yet and thousands of Amy fans came to cinema. We are also very proud of the results of Son of Saul (by László Nemes), which should end up attracting 70,000 admissions, Rams (by Grímur Hákonarson), for which we are aiming at 50,000 admissions in the long run and Youth (by Paolo Sorrentino), which will attract 150,000 admissions.