"Neptune Frost"

How Netflix is ​​a joke that tackles a film distribution flaw

Should festival events always take a year to reach more audiences? The latest comedy festival suggests an alternative solution.

Even as Netflix stocks struggle, the streaming device has proven that it can still make a good showing. Except for the guy who jumped Dave Chappelle, Netflix this past weekend was a joke fest that was a win: Several casual situations satisfied Los Angeles audiences over the course of 11 nights, spurring a promotion cycle that will drive Netflix subscribers to watch those shows nationwide.

As the international film industry prepares for Cannes – which takes place during roughly the same time period – the implications are clear: a physical event, one that sparks future content that more people want to see! Yes, Netflix Is a Joke Fest hints at a model that could tackle one of the biggest challenges in the art distribution scene.

This column is looking for big swings and this column disappears in plain sight. Festivals have taken on more active roles in film distribution, but few have managed to break through the potential to capitalize on the hype they create. Movies create a buzz, find buyers, and then wait until they find a place on the schedule. By then, the buzz was a memory. The opportunity for action to bridge this gap is too obvious to ignore.

It’s not about the pre-set hits that use the festival as a marketing launch. For all the joys of seeing the Palme d’Or winner ‘Titane’ at Cannes last year, its presence was but an important moment in Neon’s release schedule.

This luxury does not exist for acquisition titles. The same distributor bought “Titane” at last year’s festival that will be released only this week with the new real-life crime thriller “A Chiara” from director Jonas Carpignano. Likewise, Gaspar Noe’s haunting, multi-screen look at aging, “Vortex,” finally made its way to US cinemas earlier this month from Utopia Distribution. In early June, as the hype of Cannes 2022 subsides, Kino Lorber’s “Neptune Frost”, directed by 2021, will be shown in US cinemas.

The musical Afrofuturist by co-directors Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman is the ultimate story of the festival: an unclassifiable saga of pirate love set against the dream-like backdrop of Rwanda, evoking a mythic sense of postmodern identity in poetic sci-fi terms that will make Octavia Butler proud. Without the festival context, a film with such boldness and unexpectedness finds it difficult to tell the world that it exists in the first place. And like “Vortex” and “A Ciara,” it had to wait for a full festival cycle to be released.

This is not always the worst thing. Williams and Osman were in Cannes when they found out that “Neptune Frost” had joined TIFF and NYFF; This was followed by the Sundance call. “We felt the movie would set its course,” Williams told me on the phone this week. “The number of films that have come and gone between then and now is staggering. Not all of these films live up to the dream of what they are going to do. We felt that our equally paced approach was appropriate.”

Neptune Frost’s ability to find an audience was not guaranteed. From the moment it was launched in Cannes, its prospects have been informed of other festivals: will it offer more platforms? They did, and all of those calls were ultimately motivated to sell.

This way of writing this route may take the form of an SVOD service with the option to subscribe to all films programmed at major festivals. Build a generous profit share for the filmmakers (most likely around the AVOD model, so every viewing puts money in their pockets). Films featuring major festival can wait and see if they get invited to others before pulling the trigger on a VOD release; If the buyer comes at any time, the filmmakers have the option to opt out of the service. If shows do not resume, these films can take advantage of the festival’s hype at any time to become more widely available on VOD.

If this sounds familiar, let’s take a moment to bow our heads in memory of the Amazon Video Director Film Festival Stars. For two years, this VOD experience made up to $100,000 for films shown at Sundance and other major festivals to be available on the service.

The Festival Stars program has become an essential for the festival market, providing a built-in SVOD opportunity for filmmakers and distributors who may not be able to get work on a major streaming platform. Amazon paid millions for festival movies in 2019, and while the company never officially explained that decision, it was clear that it had other priorities to build its content library — like spending $8.45 billion on MGM.

The Amazon Festival Stars program left a gap: the festival ecosystem cannot rely on major banners and their volatile business strategies. The opportunity to broadcast live festival films must be a direct result of the festival circuit itself. During COVID, festivals are starting to build video-on-demand components. In this sense, the first steps have already been taken; They just have to be tied together.

Most filmmakers are still looking forward to a theatrical release, but in many cases the festival continues he is Theatrical release. Many small distributors have proven that they will gladly take on festival films with current VOD strategies as long as they get a piece of the pie. If SVOD Rights are committed to serving festival VODs through non-exclusive deals, distributors can still take advantage of this presence by moving these films to larger streaming libraries when opportunities arise. And when they don’t, filmmakers still benefit from the festival’s original SVOD deal. It will return the floor to the market.

Of course, festivals are keen to shed the pandemic-era perception that they have become dedicated video-on-demand platforms. TIFF already has 86 virtual items from its lineup (although some films at the Fall Festival will be available in Canadian homes). Sundance plans to return to the “hybrid” format, but has not yet determined how much of its lineup will be available. In these and other cases, festivals have already learned how to engage audiences at home. Rather than forgo these lessons, they should rely on it as the ultimate means of engaging audiences with the best aspects of their show — movies that wouldn’t have made much of a fuss without the programmers’ decision to put them out there.

Of course, some films benefit from the exclusivity of the first-person show and broader exploration into the future. Any new service must allow this option. But it shouldn’t take a year for most festival discoveries to reach a wider audience, and the industry currently lacks a resource to avoid this possibility. If filmmakers can flip the switch when festival noise reaches a fever pitch, the gap between the isolated world of festivals and the audiences that hunt down that noise will cease to exist.

At this year’s Cannes, other festival entities will be making their rounds and planning their next moves in a totally unpredictable climate. Among the Cannes attendees is David White, CEO of Shift72, which provides online festival creation services previously used by TIFF and Sundance, among others. This prospect may seem less attractive now that festivals want to return to the physical world, but could there be a compromise in SVOD’s joint festival service that brings festival films to audiences before they lose interest?

I can practically hear eyes rolling at this suggestion: Yes, that’s what we need– else Broadcast service! But as Netflix’s recent challenges prove, the subscriber bulge is real. Fluctuating consumers want services that give them reliable options. This includes festival audiences, who might seem like a rare group until one considers that on a global scale, even a rare group is a scalable group.

As usual, I encourage readers to share their own thoughts on this issue. Are you going to pay for a streaming service that includes movies from major festivals? Or would most filmmakers simply prefer to wait a year and let distributors rebuild the hype from scratch? What are the financial disadvantages of this approach? Send me better ideas, point out the barriers, or… call me an idiot, as long as you can support her: eric@indiewire.com

And if you are going to Cannes, do it in person. I’ll be running a session on the future of festivals at the American Pavilion on Sunday, May 22 at 12:30 p.m., and I’ll be back there May 25, again at 12:30 p.m., with my sparring partner Ann Thompson on a live recording of our Screen Talk podcast. Bonus points if you come and say hi and bring some ideas for future directions for this column. I might just give you a shout out.

Speaking of which: Last week’s story of layoffs at the Rotterdam International Film Festival generated some rich reactions from the festival community, so I’ve included some of the highlights below. This evolving situation may require a follow-up as the festival aims to announce its new programming team at Cannes, so stay tuned for that.

Vanja Kaludjercic is the artistic director of IFFR, and the programmers are her subordinates, tasked with achieving her vision for the festival. Surprisingly, not a single article on the subject said that. The programmers in question present themselves as victims: as employees who have been robbed of something. But can they be stolen from something they do not own and have been given at best as a loan? True, the previous IFFR directors largely left the programming team to their own devices. It was their privilege to run the festival like this in their time. But this does not mean that it is given. It remains the central aspect that defines the relationship between the technical director and programmers: the former defines and implements the latter. If anyone has any doubts about that, it would be really interesting to know what that person thinks the job of a technical director is if programmers do it all.”
—Olav Muller, IFFR programmer

“I strongly disagree with the statements made about the programmers collaborating with Art Director Vanja Kaludjercic. For my part, I can always discuss things with her in a very constructive way, always closely related to the film and its quality involved (other than any bureaucratic issues). Yes, It was a collaborative process, but it was very productive at the time! Of course, if I understood autonomy as a work/do what you want style, other colleagues might have been disappointed. But since the regional programmer rarely has an overview of the full lineup For the festival, there has to be someone with the whole picture – how could it be otherwise? So, I don’t see any problem here with a lack of trust or independence.”
—Stephan Borsus, IFFR programmer

“I think it’s really important that we start talking openly about the money, to draw attention to how serious the situation is, but also because I think the money is somehow tied up in the bad treatment.”
—Senior Programmer at Big American Festival (Unknown)

“Like any other ‘prestige’ professions in the arts, film programming relies on a class structure where the privileged can take the financial hit of working for little or no pay to establish themselves. I don’t need to mention travel costs, accommodation, time commitments, etc… By its very nature, the system does not encourage diversity. It is the hobby of the rich man.”
– Noel Lawrence, Filmmaker

Rotterdam, for me, was the best film festival in the world – because it left out a ‘product’ Hollywood in favor of independent and discreet voices. Raul Ruiz and Kenji Fukasaku had big, beautiful races combined with vibrant new work. Rotterdam used to show more exciting new work. Interested in one day what the New York Food Festival will do in its entirety. … expect to see a gentle institutional approach that will eventually lead to its neglect.”
– Keith Sanborn, filmmaker

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