Theatrical play for foreign-language movies is increasingly hard to come by in markets such as the U.S. and UK, despite the best efforts of a handful of dedicated distributors. There are bright spots on the horizon, however, attendees at the 2019 Zurich Summit heard yesterday.
Wild Bunch chief Vincent Maraval told the audience that online streamers have increased business for foreign films. “The beauty of the platforms, for foreign-language films, is that they have opened up a tremendous market. [The market for foreign films] used to be arthouse cinemas in very urban cities. Now they go everywhere. Netflix is probably the biggest client of the French cinema by far now. The business for foreign-language films has really increased.”
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Speaking on the same panel, CAA Media Finance Co-Head Roeg Sutherland noted that streaming platforms have created a new audience for subtitled films in English-speaking territories. “American audiences rarely used to watch content with subtitles and now suddenly they do because of shows like Narcos.”
Robert Lazar of Marathon Management noted the same trend in an earlier session, “[TV is experiencing] a great renaissance. There are fantastic shows being made around the world, not just in the U.S.. Netflix is a bad word in some communities but they are also opening up peoples’ eyes to shows they normally wouldn’t see – French shows, Israeli shows. The U.S. is becoming a territory, rather than everything.”
Sutherland predicted that Netflix would spend at least $100M on foreign-language movies this year. A cultural shift could in turn benefit theatrical. The Farewell, which is largely in Mandarin, made $17.4m at the U.S. box office this summer via A24.
Sutherland added, “I think the future is local. There will be some American independent films that crossover [into the international market] and are great, there will be the tentpole movies and those are great if you like them, but really the focus now is making movies for your own market [outside of the U.S.] and hoping that they cross over.”
China remains an important opportunity for indie film, attendees were told, despite a recent broader media crackdown from authorities. The ongoing U.S.-China trade war was referenced at several points throughout the Summit as a factor in changes to Chinese viewing habits. Distributors in the country are increasingly seeking films from Europe and further afield, it was noted.
One of the most frequently referenced movies yesterday was Nadine Labaki’s Arabic-language drama Capernaum, which grossed a staggering $54.3M in China.
Dede Nickerson, a producer and advisor to China’s Huanxi Media, said, “There’s a sophisticated, white collar audience that appreciates arthouse cinema – that’s where you’re seeing international releases. The trade situation with the U.S. means that films that are not American are getting much more play and I think that’s going to be a continuing trend.”
“There is an opening for something other than those big Chinese movies, there is an audience for speciality art films,” commented Patrick Wachsberger, the former Lionsgate co-chairman. “There were the go-go years [in China], but now [Chinese buyers] have become smarter and they only really buy for real value now.”
“[The Chinese are] becoming more sophisticated moviegoers,” agreed UTA agent Alex Brunner.