Central European distributors meet in San Sebastian


    European Film Promotion used the platform of the San Sebastian film festival to herald the efforts of the unsung heros of the film industry in Central Europe: the distributors.

    From regional giant Poland, to the light-weights of the Baltics, the distributors had a single message for sales agents: minimum guarantees are standing in the way of film distribution of quality art house films. In contrast, Spain, France, and Germany were applauded for support schemes that make their films affordable in countries like Estonia, where Katrin Rajasaare of Tallinnfilm said admissions of more that 3,000 is considered a success.

    Oscars Killo of Latvian distributor Acme Film, like many of his colleagues, touted the strength of Almovodar and Spanish horror films, a surprising success across the region -- with the notable exception of Bulgaria. "We have enough horror," quipped Stefan Kitanov of Art Fest.

    Premysl Martinek of Czech company Artcam suggested that European distributors follow U.S. models to gain more success in the region, while Natasa Bucar of Cankarjev dom and Greta Akcijonaite of Lithuania's Skalvija praised the support of the French Institute for help with subtitling and promotion.

    Local films have begun finding success in home markets. Transilvania Film's Stefan Bradea had his biggest success, 23,000 admissions, with Tudor Giurgiu's Love Sick.

    Welcoming the participants, San Sebastian festival director Michal Olaciregui noted the in the EU, "We have no more borders, but we have for films." An almost total absence of Central European films from neighboring countries in any of the territories underscored his point. One exception is Czech cinema, which Gutek distributor Jakub Duszynski said performs well in Poland. Slovakia's Michal Drobny of Continental Film pointed out that mutual understanding of each others' language helped Czech films succeed in Slovakia.

    While there were some titles and directors who popped up on most radar screens, more surprises were found in the differences between territories. Russian films do well in Latvia, Killo noted, because of the population. In near-by Poland, Duszynski said he buys films for women. Action thrillers are consigned to the DVD racks.

    A question yet to be resolved is the potential for cooperation between art house distributors across the region. While there was some discussion of economies of scale and sharing prints, it seems unlikely to happen in the near future.

    Host Renate Rose of EFP called the group, "Ten very talented, risk-taking European distributors." In a landscape where Hollywood product dominates 90% of the market or more, the can-do determination of the distrbutors is vital to their success.