On 7 August, the Locarno Film Festival hosted a Heritage Online panel titled “Theatrical Distribution and Streaming of Classics,” moderated by critic and programmer Jay Weissberg. The panel was comprised of Ronald Chammah (Les Film Camelia); Frédéric Maire (Cinématèque Suisse); Elise Cochin (mk2); Jaume Ripoll (Filmin); K.J. Relth-Miller (Academy Museum) and Erin Farrell (Film Movement).
First, Weissberg asked whether the concept of heritage cinema itself is helping or hurting theatrical distribution. Cochin said that mk2 handles a catalog of about 850 titles, including some key titles by auteurs such as Abbas Kiarostami and David Lynch, as well as “more obscure films.” She also highlighted how working under their own label (which kicked off during the first lockdown) has proven beneficial to the circulation of “unknown films and classics” alike.
Relth-Miller explained how during a chat with an exhibitor based in Paris, she found out how repertory cinema is not considered different from contemporary cinema, “They are collapsing both concepts into one single model. I think that’s very interesting because at least in Los Angeles – and I can see this in New York and in other major metropolitan areas of the United States – you [actually] see a bifurcation,” she insisted.
Meanwhile, Maire rejected the idea of distinguishing old and new titles, backing the idea of mixing fresh titles with classics. “This idea of separating them is useful for communication for the market, but, except for that, we try to avoid it. […] Yesterday, I was watching [Daniel Schmid’s] “La Paloma” and it felt modern and new. I don’t want to make these distinctions in terms of cultural perspective,” he said.
Farrell agreed that this approach can be helpful to raise audience awareness, “When we talk about ‘heritage films’ in the same breath as our new releases, we tend to get a bit more engagement, and that’s something I’m trying to do more going forward.”
“Let’s call a cat a cat: ‘heritage film’ is not a bad word. […] We can have a lot of fun creating marketing,” said Cochin, adding how her team, in collaboration with artist and illustrator Akiko Stehrenberger, created “a series of really badass posters” to promote restored movies by Claude Chabrol.
Throughout the panel, the speakers thus agreed how positioning old films as if they are brand-new titles is crucial, but also admitted that it is significantly harder to work with this strategy on “hidden gems” in comparison with films typically termed “classics” that have been helmed by acclaimed filmmakers. They also agreed how – luckily enough – the pandemic has actually helped increase the curiosity of audiences.
Reith-Miller, for example, noted how certain cult classics, such as Sergio Corbucci’s “The Great Silence”, are always going to perform well and can serve as a “gateway for more exploration,” paving the way for lesser known hidden gem films.
Meanwhile, Maire described France as “a paradise” for heritage cinema, and Ripoll admitted that the Spanish market is more challenging when it comes to the same niche. “What numbers tell us is that people, or at least our Spanish audience, only care about one or two big titles. If it’s Chantal Akerman, it’s “Jeanne Dielman”, “23 quai du Commerce”, “1080 Bruxelles”,” said Ripoll.
Chammah revealed how the arthouse audience keen to rediscover classics got younger: “Seven years ago when we would show a classic, the main audience used to be older. Now, after the pandemic, it’s young people.” Speaking of marketing, he highlighted how radio interviews and podcasts may now be more effective than print media. After taking part in three radio broadcasts over the course of two weeks, the attendance of Les Film Camelia’s silent film program doubled.
Maire stressed how new media and platforms are indispensable to intercept younger audiences, mentioning the Cinematheque’s work on TikTok and the creation of a dedicated podcast. Besides, the organization of event screenings remains essential, he added.
On the topic of attracting audiences with original prints, Relth-Miller defined such a choice as “a double-edged sword.” The prints need to be of high standard in order to build trust and not to receive complaints, “When there is trust, the audience can go out on a limb with you. They know you will take them somewhere interesting.”
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