This month we take a break from out usual distributors list and we speak with Xavier Henry-Rashid, Managing Director at Film Republic, a London-based world sales agency specialised in art house fiction and cinematic documentaries.
Its lineup includes titles from veteran production houses as well as emerging and first time filmmakers, with a focus on intelligent, cinematic and non-mainstream titles. Film Republic has quickly established itself as one of Europe’s leading art house agencies for taking on risky and daring titles by the next generation of master filmmakers.
FNE: What are the innovative strategies that you choose to apply in film acquisition and sales?
Xavier Henry-Rashid: We have an extremely tight acquisition profile, really focusing on films with strong visual identity, intelligent stories - we say art-house, but really the genres are very varied, and I like to think we never compromise on quality. This usually means we don't necessarily have films for mainstream audiences, not always the easiest films, but always extremely strong quality films. I wouldn't say there is anything necessarily innovative, but it means buyers and festival programmers know our lineups very well and come back.
FNE: What CEE festival is the most important showcase for the kind of films you acquire and why? Are there any other showcases that are important for you in CEE besides this festival?
Xavier Henry-Rashid: Our most important festivals in the region for us Karlovy Vary, Transilvania, New Horizons and Sarajevo, where we regularly screen and acquire (all of which have a works-in-progress or pitching presentation). There are other events we follow closely and occasionally attend, like Zagreb Dox and Jihlava for documentaries or events like Ex-Oriente or the Baltic Sea Forum.
There isn't much of a market for art-house films in South Eastern Europe, and not many are released in Eastern/Baltic regions for example, so it's important to meet as many buyers as possible at these events.
FNE: What are the most important festivals you attend in terms of acquisitions of films?
Xavier Henry-Rashid: A lot of festivals (attendance) contribute towards acquisitions of a film. For example last year we first discussed a film at Rome (Film Market), saw it in Karlovy Vary (kviff.com), and signed in Locarno. One we saw in the works in progress in Les Arcs, saw in Toronto and signed at Black Nights IFF in Tallinn. One as a works-in- progress in the Carte Blanche in Locarno, and signed in Berlin.
The whole acquisition process for sellers (and buyers) can be a mystery. We see films pitched at events, presented at works-in-progress, and hear critical (often negative) feedback from attendees. But if the film gets into Cannes, opinions change very quickly. Sometimes companies confirm acquisitions based on whether films get into A-Class festivals. So rather than acquiring films in Cannes, the trend is more acquiring on the basis a film gets into Cannes.
We look at festivals like Rotterdam, Berlin, Karlovy Vary, Locarno, San Sebastian and Toronto to pick up, but also markets like Rome, Busan, Guadalajara and Ventana Sur.
FNE: How does a success (or "disappointment") in a festival relate to a success (or "disappointment") in cinemas?
Xavier Henry-Rashid: Festivals of course have a big impact on sales success, but it would be realistic I think, to say that only very few festivals matter. The important factor for us is positioning films in festivals that help drive acquisitions. Buyers want films from A-Class (or even secondary) festivals. Festivals also, want films from the A-Class ones, and those in turn can become an important income stream.
As I mentioned before, some films are taken on, on the condition they get into an important festival. If they don't, they are dropped by some sellers. Or if they get in, the minimum guarantees shoot up in price. This all has a huge impact on why films are picked up, so for me it's a case of looking at acquisition dynamics, rather than audience dynamics (in cinemas), because the people we have to convince are decision makers at distribution (and TV, cable etc) companies, not really the audiences themselves.
At the same time, negative press at a major market can have an important impact on the deals we sign, and one thing we see less and less of at smaller festivals is impulse buying, which was something companies could do many years ago.
FNE: Does piracy affect your VOD/DVD releases and is there anything you can do in order to prevent it?
Xavier Henry-Rashid: I interviewed an intern a few months ago and she told me she had prepared for the interview by watching the majority of our films online, illegally. It's incredible to think about it, small films, with limited releases (only in main territories), including one which had not yet been released anywhere (the only screeners sent out had been to buyers and festivals).
Piracy is a big issue everywhere, and much more so in some countries than others. I personally think piracy is a percentage, a reflection of the active buying audience. The issue for VOD specifically, is the monetisation on platforms. To be honest, we simply don't see returns on VOD, they barely cover our time and deliverables costs and the reports we see are slim pickings, with the exception of Netflix.
One simple step we take to decrease piracy of our films includes sending fewer screeners and using safer viewing platforms, but these are very basic steps, I don't feel there is a firm answer for solving this problem.
FNE: Which film do you think might describe your work in the most accurate way and why?
Xavier Henry-Rashid: Our proudest film is probably a small first time feature, El Limpiador /The Cleaner (Peru) by Adrian Saba, which launched in San Sebastián in 2012. We fell in love with the film a few months later in Ventana Sur, after it was shunned by the industry for being too 'small' and difficult, and it later became one of the best performing Latino titles the following year, then being submitted as Peru's official entry to the Academy Awards in 2014 and being released worldwide (and still ongoing).
The film required perseverance and a lot of effort, but the quality of the film is what stood out, which was not an immediate success but when programmers and buyers started talking about it over the year it performed very well.